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Yahoo Hones In On Contextual Search With Aviate

Following last week’s hacking scandal Yahoo has come out fighting, with CEO Marissa Mayer putting on quite a performance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and delivering quite a few new announcements. Among these was the revelation that Yahoo has acquired Aviate, a contextual search company focused on mobile, which might give Yahoo a fresh edge in a shifting market.

A new investment in security is taking place at the search engine, perhaps in an effort to reassure victims of the hacking incident in which it emerged that user computers zombified with malware were used to mine for bitcoins. Yahoo has now enabled https encryption across all its email services, whether they are used via the web or mobile apps or through POP, IMAP or SMTP. Security experts note that there are still weak points in the system, such as its use of RC4, but it is a step in the right direction and may go some way to restoring confidence.

The reason why Aviate matters so much is its ability – like those artificial intelligences Google and Facebook are currently working on – to get to know the person it works for. “Imagine your phone delivers the right experience to you at the right time, instead of you having to search for it,” suggested Mayer. Aviate “suggests music apps in your car, fitness apps in the gym, bringing you what you need when you need it.” Mayer added: “The future of search is contextual knowledge, and we're investing to be part of this future.”

The key to Aviate is its ability to identify its user’s routines and to predict what that person is likely to want. If, for instance, it knows that a user always likes to check the news headlines at lunchtime on a week day, it will bring that information straight up on the screen with no need for a search to take place; it will also rearrange the screen to optimize it for the user.

If it turns out to have sufficiently widespread customer appeal in practice, Aviate could be just the thing Yahoo needs to turn its fortunes around. It could not only help it to claw back vital market share but could also enable new ways of bringing in advertisers. This is what Yahoo will be working on now, and it is worth watching.

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