Yahoo Inc. on Thursday will begin testing a new search engine feature that will pore through millions of songs offered by popular Internet music services like iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster.
The free service, available at audio.search.yahoo.com, boasts an index of more than 50 million audio files, including newscasts, speeches and interviews posted online, as well as the Internet's deepening pool of "podcasts" — recordings made to be played on a computer or digital device like Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod player. The index identifies the content by reading information — known as "metadata" — embedded in the files.
Other Internet search engines, such as America Online's Singing Fish and Blinkx, already find audio files, but Yahoo is touting its as the most comprehensive, largely because it has received permission to index downloadable songs offered by virtually all of the Internet's top music services.
"It's really one-stop shopping for the music fan," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo's director of technology development, search and marketplace group.
Yahoo's new alliance comes just three months after the company set out to topple the Internet's top online music services with the introduction of a rival subscription service that allows customers to download all the songs they want for $6.99 per month. That price represents a sharp discount from similar services offered by Napster and RealNetworks' Rhapsody.
The audio search feature won't favor Yahoo's songs over the others, Horowitz said. "When it comes to search, we're like Switzerland. We can't show bias in search."
Yahoo will have an incentive to drive traffic to other music services because it will get a small commission for songs downloaded by people coming from its Web site.
The expansion into audio search coincides with an increasing emphasis by Yahoo and other top search engines on indexing online video. The diversification beyond searching simple text online reflects the Web's evolution into a multimedia hub — a shift that the top search engines hope to parlay into profits.
There's another reason all the major search engines are developing more bells and whistles —the battle to attract and retain users so they can make more money selling ads. Yahoo won't display ads next to its audio search results initially, but that could change as the service evolves, Horowitz said.
Google Inc., the Internet's search engine leader, isn't yet so musically inclined.