Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yahoo acquires startup Zofari to bolster local search

With its latest purchase, Yahoo looks to strengthen its local-recommendation chops.

Yahoo has acquired the local-search startup Zofari, adding technology that makes local recommendations, as the Internet giant seeks to strengthen its offerings around search.

The deal was announced Friday, but was reported earlier Tuesday by TechCrunch.

Zofari generates recommendations for local haunts like bars and cafes akin to how Pandora, the streaming-music service, creates personalized radio stations. It does that partly by culling information from other local-search services like Foursquare and partly by looking at places that users liked to generate the kind of "if you liked that, you'll like this" recommendations that Pandora and movie-streaming service Netflix are known for. Zofari said it was "inspired" by those services.

"We built (what we think) is a beautiful and powerful recommendation app," Zofari said in a blog post. While we've built an experience we couldn't be more proud of, we're a small company and have always dreamed of reaching users at a greater scale."

The purchase is just one of more than 40 that CEO Marissa Mayer has made since she took the reins at Yahoo more than two years ago, but it's aligned specifically with the company's desire to build out its mobile search offerings. The buy comes at a time when Yahoo's display ad sales -- an important financial metric, though becoming less en vogue as users move to mobile devices -- fell 7 percent last quarter.

"We're thrilled to welcome the team to Yahoo, where they will join our growing Search organization and continue to build amazing discovery experiences," a Yahoo spokesperson said, in a statement.

Yahoo has also been recently tending specifically to its ailing local-search business. In February, the Internet giant announced a partnership with Yelp to display its content, like ratings and reviews, on Yahoo search results pages. The senior director who orchestrated the deal, Anand Chandrasekaran, has since left Yahoo.

At the time the Yelp partnership was announced, a former member of Yahoo's local-search team told CNET the new efforts were overdue. "The platform was just rotting," he said.

He also pointed out that the actual technology around Yahoo's local-search capabilities suffered because of how siloed the company was. Like many of Yahoo's woes, it was mainly a legacy problem: The platform for, say, the Korean market would be different from the platform for the US market because of the way those platforms evolved separately from each other. The inconsistencies made it difficult for Yahoo to execute on plans related to improving the technology.

For now, Zofari will continue to run its services on the Web and on Apple's iOS for the iPhone and iPad and Google's Android mobile operating systems, which power devices from makers including Samsung. But, as with many of Yahoo's recent acquisitions, the company could discontinue the startup's product.

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