Every Week Is Science Week, but This Week Most of All

This week is Science Week at Yahoo!, and for Yahoo! Labs it’s a particularly special occasion — we’re celebrating our five-year anniversary. It was in 2005 that we formally created Yahoo! Research, and over that time we’ve grown the organization, building what we now call Yahoo! Labs – our team of expert scientists, engineers, and researchers focused on inventing new sciences and applying them to Yahoo!’s products and business.

There’s not enough room here to go into all of the insights Yahoo! Labs has published and presented this year – that’s what our website is for, and we highly recommend you check it out  – but to give you an idea, we recently discussed more than 25 papers at the ACMSIGIR and ACMKDD international research conferences in July. You’re not familiar with information retrieval and knowledge discovery? No worries. Here are a few highlights that will give you a feel for our work:

  • Automatic Construction of Travel Itineraries Using Social Breadcrumbs: Every minute, thousands of images are uploaded to Flickr. In this study, the images and associated meta-data (like time stamps and geo-codes) became “social breadcrumbs” that Yahoo! Labs scientists used to create a roadmap to some of the world’s most popular intra-city travel itineraries, including Barcelona, London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco.

  • Twitter Under Crisis: Can We Trust What We RT?: Yahoo! scientists examined Twitter usage during the 2010 Chilean earthquake, focusing on users’ differentiation of false rumors and legitimate news. The conclusion Yahoo! Labs scientists found was that users questioned the alleged rumors, almost self-regulating the truth of each other’s assertions, which shows that social networks may have the potential to correct their own mistakes.

These are just a couple, but I hope they pique your interest. There’s a lot to learn out there, and what we collectively know about the Web is changing every day.

In addition to publishing research papers and working with the academic community, Yahoo! Labs works very closely with product and engineering teams here at Yahoo! to continuously innovate and make sure our products – like Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, the Yahoo! Homepage, Search and many more – are using the latest scientific ideas and breakthroughs. So even if you’re not familiar with the latest algorithms for calculating the relevance of a website, there’s no doubt: Almost every second you spend with Yahoo! is one that’s been improved, in some way, by Yahoo! Labs.

For example, we use a technology we call content optimization that was developed in Yahoo! Labs. This helps to decide which stories will be featured in the Today Module on our homepage. All kinds of variables are factored in, from which stories seem to be gaining in popularity around the Web at that time, to what topics might be relevant to your local area and what news is about to take off, based on the years of experience and expertise of our editors. All of these factors and more get computed constantly at Yahoo!, and with that data we’re customizing your homepage, serving as many as 32,000 different versions  every five minutes. You get to see the page that’s most interesting to your world, and so does everyone else — it’s all based on science.

If you’re curious about the identities of these mad scientists working to make your Yahoo! experience better and more intuitive, here’s an up-close view from Science Week:
Every Week Is Science Week, but This Week Most of All
As you can see, they’re normal folks just like you and me. They’re just really obsessed with the science of the Web.

You can see more photos from Science Week by checking out our Flickr stream. And you can track all the innovations and interesting projects from Yahoo! Labs by following our Twitter feed.

-Prabhakar Raghavan

Yahoo! Chief Scientist and Head of Yahoo! Labs