Yahoo hopes to build a network of search partners that rely on Yahoo provided search infrastructure and services. For all that Yahoo hopes to close the gap with Google by opening up its search infrastructure, at first glance, what the Yahoo's "new direction" most reminds me of is Google's ad-serving model, implemented how long, three years ago?
Raghavan is a central search-industry figure. I can't argue with his assertion, "Users don't really want to search. They want to spend time on their work, personal lives and entertainment. They come to search engines only to get their tasks done." I've said the same thing myself for years — "Few users are looking for the hit lists of dubious relevance returned by the major search engines" — which just shows how obvious search shortcomings have long been.
Myself, I (still) see that "question answering" — the use of text analytics to discern search-user intent, identify sources, extract relevant information, and formulate appropriate responses — is the key to better search. Yahoo (and Google and Microsoft Live) search already do basic QA. Ask Yahoo population pennsylvania and you'll see what I mean: application of "named entity recognition" coupled with basic linguistic pattern matching.
Third-rate, publicity hungry, would-be Google-killers such as Cuil won't change the search world, but neither will confusing the market by seeding the bloom of a thousand search flowers if all they'll do is present the same information in new ways. Search users want better information findability and not just more ways and places to search. I hope Yahoo keeps that in mind.
P.S. Thanks to Stephen Arnold, writing in his Beyond Search blog, for the interview link.Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Research, says that Yahoo "will be launching a new generation of search in two to three months... Search is going to move in a completely new direction." The initiative, per a Financial Express interview, will build on Yahoo's BOSS (build your own search software) platform, which implements a "self-service Web services model for developers and start-ups."