Yahoo scratches the surface of the Internet


As good as search engines are, there is an important question that cannot be answered with a few keystrokes.

"What is it that keeps users coming back? That is critical to understand," Yahoo Chief scientist Prabhakar Raghavan said.

And that is why Raghavan has drawn dozens of its research scientists to Silicon Valley this week from Yahoo labs in Spain, Israel, India and Chile.

They have studied whether people challenge posts on Twitter, if visitors to dating sites really want what they say they are seeking and how friends influence buying decisions on social networks.

"I believe that the social sciences will undergo big leaps, understanding of human behavior, in the next 10 to 20 years, thanks to the Internet because suddenly it's possible to study and recreate human behavior at scales that you would never imagine before," Raghavan said.

That is done by monitoring Internet searches and by talking to users.

The goal is to make Yahoo better for consumers and advertisers.

"We certainly want to make it better, and our competitors are working hard to improve their things, so we have to exceed what they're doing," Yahoo electrical engineer Malcolm Slaney said.

Elizabeth Churchill is a psychologist. Her research focuses on social networks -- getting people to link up with others with similar interests.

"People want to connect with other people. They want to meet up with their friends, form groups and feel good about themselves, affiliate with other people and find people who are like them," she said.

Even a photo sharing site like Flickr provides valuable research data. They have discovered the most popular travel destinations out of 4.5 billion photos posted are Barcelona, London, Paris, New York and San Francisco.

"Yahoo this year turns 15. As a well-established company, it is always looking for growth opportunities, and it hopes that with research, it will do so, especially in emerging markets overseas.

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