Yahoo made, I think, a rather intriguing announcement last week that didn't get a lot of attention: it's going to move to "an open search approach." Simply stated, this means that site owners will be able to deliver to Yahoo exactly the information they want to appear in Yahoo search results. Best of all, Yahoo isn't even charging site owners for all this additional power and exposure in the belief this will radically increase the user experience it delivers.

Leaving aside all the nitty-gritty technical details, Yahoo will allow site owners to effectively pre-package information in an intelligent way for display in Yahoo search results. This could be interesting for a wide range of publishers, particularly advertising- based publishers, who would benefit through additional eyeballs on their ad-supported content. This could also offer intriguing opportunities to database publishers because this new approach will allow you to selectively pull data from your database - content that typically isn't indexed at all by search engines, and push it to Yahoo for direct integration into search results pages.

Let's also acknowledge the big "gotcha" in this program: users have to explicitly indicate that they want to see your deep data in their search results. You'll be able to put a button on your site that users can click to enable your deeper content in their Yahoo search results. Stated another way, users will have to already know about you and like your content before they'll be able to see your enhanced content embedded in their Yahoo search results. That means open search at Yahoo isn't about attracting new users to your content, but rather getting existing users to view your content more often.

The real excitement to me is that this is likely the beginning of a trend. The search business has really moved past the old battle of who has indexed the most pages to a new battleground of features and functionality. Yahoo may be onto something bigger than it realizes here. If it gets a good response to this new approach, it's got every incentive as the distant second player in the business to push the envelope. And that could lead to some breakthrough opportunities for those of us who would like a nice showcase for our deep and useful data.