Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President, Chief Scientist and Head of Yahoo! Labs, was in Bangalore in late July. BT'S Rahul Sachitanand caught up with the Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley, who is also a consultant professor at Stanford, on the road ahead. Edited excerpts.
We see a break from the backend data centre work - which is a battle fought between different, larger and faster data centres - with the primary intent of grabbing and serving Internet content. We don't think this battleground serves our shareholders best. Instead, we want to focus our attention on user experience. Stuff around crawling web pages can be done by a talented student I teach.
Users have an underlying intent and desire they want to fulfil. Users don't really want to search. Today we force them to express their desire through an Internet search. We believe in search with massive amounts of human intervention. For example, if you want to go out for dinner and plan a movie, you have to run a whole bunch of searches on restaurants serving pasta in Bangalore.
We want to say Bangalore is our location, and pasta is food. We want to serve up a list of restaurants and not web pages which serve pasta. We want to filter restaurant sites from airport web sites and shopping sites also offering pasta. We do some of these things already.
College faculty and students need access to large amounts of processing power and large centres to crunch their data. We have some 1,000 university faculty working with Yahoo! around the world, including India. We can multiply the intellectual horsepower employed at Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft ten-fold by working with these institutes. It doesn't matter if we secure the intellectual property they build. Once it is out in the open, we can secure it and build upon it.
The current wave on the Internet is about trying to figure out social networks - who connects to whom on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The next big question is who influences whom. Besides computer scientists, we have economists and social scientists to try to answer these questions.
Advertisers would be very interested to see if you can manipulate influence on the Internet. The mobile device is also becoming a second hub of the Internet, but to my mind there are yet certain classes of activities which will continue to be done on a computer.