Yahoo! SearchMonkey, Yahoo!’s initiative to open up its search engine for third-party developers to add more flavors to the currently text-only search results, sounded like such a great idea that we jumped in as soon as we heard about it.

ShoppingNotes.com is the only one in the world, as far as we know, who has the Semantic Web technology that can scrape, uh, I mean, extract the product image and price out of any product page URL from any merchant site. So wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to use this technology to show these product images and prices right on the first search result pages? One of our SearchMonkey applications ShoppingNotes Enhanced Result does just that. To see it in action:

  1. Click on this link http://gallery.search.yahoo.com/application?smid=NLh.s.
  2. Click on Add Enhanced Results on the right to allow ShoppingNotes Enhanced Result to be shown in Yahoo! search results. You will be asked to sign in to a Yahoo! account if you haven’t.
  3. Search for products on Yahoo! Search, especially “soft goods” (clothing, shoes, bags, etc.) products, for example, donna karan dress, dior bag, christian louboutin sandal, giuseppe zanotti sandal, and so on.

If your search results have URLs coming from the over 80 merchant sites (see here for the full list) that we currently support for Search Monkey, you will see our cute little ShoppingNotes.com logo showing up below those results, which means our ShoppingNotes Enhanced Result has been triggered to show the product images and prices.

Due to SearchMonkey’s current limitations, the first time you do a search, our ShoppingNotes Enhanced Result may be folded and you’ll need to click on the blue little downward triangle to pull it down. If you repeat that search, the product images and prices are supposed to show up automatically, without you having to click through one by one to see them all, like in this picture below:

 

So what are the benefits? Well, that’s obvious. This SearchMonkey application combines search engine’s quality in ranking, relevance, and authority with comparison shopping engine’s richer product information on one search result page. Product images and prices certainly make search results more useful and attractive and therefore encourage click-throughs. Compare these enhanced results to the same searches on Yahoo! Shopping or other comparison shopping engines, and you’ll see comparison shopping engines are still pretty weak and incomplete in these “soft goods” searches.

Today there are still far more people using search engines than comparison shopping engines for shopping. Enhancements on search results like this are going to benefit essentially the entire user base of Yahoo! Search. What’s more, there is no need for merchant sites to add semantic tags (like microformat, RDF, etc.) to their existing web pages or tweak their existing systems. It just works with what we have today, not what we will have. The list of supported merchant sites can also be easily extended to include any merchant sites by simply adding more trigger URL patterns. No need to re-do the scraping information extracting work for each new merchant site as ShoppingNotes.com automatically takes care of that.

We also have another SearchMonkey application ShoppingNotes Combo, which shows product images and prices plus two convenient links to save to My Shopping Notes and to set price alerts. You can follow the same 3-step instructions above for this link http://gallery.search.yahoo.com/application?smid=fCD.s to try it out. Because this application contains links pointing to a domain different from those of the URLs in the search results, SearchMonkey requires that you click on the little blue downward triangle to pull it down.

We know the current implementation may not be perfect, due to SearchMonkey’s limitations on applications that call outside web services (as in our case). Ideally our scraper information extractor could be run at the time the search engine crawler fetches a copy from the URLs, but that would make the whole things very complicated. Nevertheless, SearchMonkey still has a pretty good start. I enjoyed working on SearchMonkey applications. And I want to give the SearchMonkey team a big applause for their innovation and execution (I was told the SearchMonkey project went from ideas to completion within only 6 months), especially Amit Kumar, the SearchMonkey product manager, who always gives quick responses in the developer group, and Paul Tarjan, the Chief Technical Monkey, who replied to my post around 02:00 in the morning.

As Microsoft just announced the acquisition of PowerSet, a Semantic Web search engine, I guess we are in the beginning to see more and more Semantic Web technology being applied to search. We at ShoppingNotes.com are proud of our Semantic Web technology, and we just showed a way our technology can be used to improve search. I think we are in an interesting position as all we do is about shopping. After all, as Michael Arrington puts it, e-commerce searches are all that matters, aren’t they?

Update: Yahoo! just announced BOSS, which opens up even more of their search platform. Looks like Yahoo! is serious about this open approach. Bravo!

Manual Trackback: We just got featured as the first one on the official Yahoo! Search blog The Latest Cool SearchMonkey Apps. Thanks!

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So, the timing just can’t be better to write about this. Microsoft announced that it will give its users cashback when they make a purchase through its Live Search. I try a query on Panasonic PV-GS80, a camcorder I recently bought. Among those results, the top percentage payout is 3.5% on an original price of $299.89, and the lowest “bottom line price” is $243.04.

3.5%. Sounds not bad, huh?! Well, let me tell you my recent experience with ShoppingNotes.com’s price alert service. [Disclosure: I am the founder of ShoppingNotes.com]

I bought that Panasonic PV-GS80 for $199.99 from a local BestBuy on Apr. 24 (See?! This price is already 18% lower than the lowest price I find on Live Search) for the Best Startup Contest in Startup Camp. I wanted to record our funny moments in the Speed Geeking sessions. ShoppingNotes.com ended up tied with Bidnkind.com for the third place. We both got 12 wooden nickels from the voters, but we did not win the iPod. Anyway, that’s another long story.

I have the good habit of setting price alerts for what I have bought using ShoppingNotes.com in the hope of getting some extra refund dollars. This time, it really paid off, and paid off BIG! On May 8, the 14th day (the last day of the return period) after I bought that Panasonic PV-GS80, I got a price alert notification from ShoppingNotes.com, telling me that that Panasonic PV-GS80 had dropped to $129.99!!! I still remember I got so excited that I jumped up and down for a while. Not only because I could get an extra $70, but more importantly, this proves that the web site we created is really working and really useful, and I believe more people are going to love our price alerts and jump up and down like me when they receive their big price drop notifications.

Excited as I was, I didn’t forget that I still needed to go to BestBuy in person to claim that refund. So I rushed to BestBuy, and this picture says it all. BestBuy, thank you so much! I love you:

Now that’s $70 off $199.99, or a whopping 35% off the original price. The final price I got is $129.99, which is 47% lower than the lowest “bottom line price” I find on Live Search. $129.99 is really a steal for a camcorder with good ratings and reviews.

Sounds too great to believe?! Well, next time don’t forget to go to ShoppingNotes.com to set a price alert right after you make an on-line purchase. A fortune may be yours–only if you know it’s there. But don’t worry. ShoppingNotes.com has made all this hassle free. All you need to do is enter the URL address of your purchase and your email address. Then rest assured you won’t miss a fortune like this any more.

So back to the Live Search cashback story, Michael Arrington seems slightly optimistic about it. Well, I’m not so. Michael probably isn’t a big online shopper, so he probably doesn’t know that the real problem is, Live Search still has too few listings and their prices are just not competitive enough against other comparison shopping engines, even after cashback. The real bargain hunters, who care only about the “bottom-line prices” but not about the percentages of cashback, are going to know this. Unfortunately, they also happen to be the same group of people that Microsoft is wooing with this cashback program.

Hey, Microsoft, if you want to do something really disruptive to the game, 2% or 3% cashback is not gonna be enough. The 35% off that ShoppingNotes.com helped me get is what is needed to be called disruptive or game-changing. And the best part is, you don’t pay that out of your own pocket (even though we know you do have a deep one). Other people pay the bill, but you get most of the credit!

So seriously, I do think Microsoft should talk to us. But oddly enough, I can’t find any mention of this new cashback program in any Live Search official blogs where I can leave my thoughts. So I’ll just post them here. We’d be happy to talk to Microsoft (in fact, any guys who want our disruptive features) any time.

Update: Looks like Microsoft is being a lot more generous in the “soft goods” (clothing, shoes, bags, etc.) categories. So I guess they are really serious about it. Good!