Yahoo sacrifices AltaVista in YQL-centric mobile play

Yahoo has added several more products to the chopping block, including APIs in favor of its homegrown SQL-like language

You may not have noticed, but Yahoo is really and truly evolving with Marissa Mayer at the helm. As it's been buying up companies left and right -- including Tumblr, Rondee, Loki, and others -- it's also been shedding dead weight. Last Friday, in fact, the company revealed it will be pulling the plug on its venerable AltaVista search, WebPlayer, Yahoo RSS Alerts, and other apps -- and a couple of APIs, in favor of the YQL (Yahoo Query Language).

These acquisitions and cuts all point to Mayer guiding Yahoo toward becoming a next-gen mobile company, one that delivers "visual, rich" content and services via smartphones, tablets, wearables, and beyond. "We have the content. We have all of the information that people want on their phones," she said in her first public interview since becoming CEO. "Now it's about making it easy and relevant to use on mobile."

The process of becoming a lean, mean, mobile-focused machine entails dumping old technologies that don't serve that vision, and Yahoo's been doing just that. In April, the company announced that, in the name of "sharpening [its] focus" it was shutting down Yahoo Avatars, the Yahoo Message Boards website, Yahoo App Search, and other products. In March, the company revealed it was pulling the plug on products like Yahoo SMS Alerts, as well as Yahoo Mail and Messenger J2ME apps for feature phones.

Good-bye APIs, hello YQL?
The most recent round of announced cuts stand out, however, in that they don't just include products that won't be missed by any but the most nostalgic of Internet denizens (when's the last time you AltaVistaed anything?). There are a couple of APIs on the list with entirely different fates: The Yahoo Local API is being outright eliminated come Sept. 30. By contrast, the company is eliminating direct access to the Yahoo Term Extraction API; existing users who still want the functionality will need to migrate to YQL requests by Sept. 28.

YQL is Yahoo's SQL-like query language designed to retrieve and manipulate data from APIs through a Web interface, allowing developers to create apps using mashups. Yahoo launched YQL as part of its Developer Network in 2008. Since then, the company added open tables from third parties, as well as a capability to execute YQL-built tables of data using JavaScript.

"The Yahoo Query Language lets you query, filter, and join data across any Web data source or service on the Web. Using our YQL Web service, apps run faster with fewer lines of code and a smaller network footprint," wrote YQL Lead Jonathan Trevor back in 2009. "YQL treats the entire Web as a source of table data, enabling developers to select * from Internet."

The fact that Yahoo is dumping the Term Extraction API in favor of YQL-based requests certainly suggests that company remains bullish about the development platform. The question, though, is what other Yahoo APIs will follow suit, requiring devs to dig into their existing apps to make coding changes? The PlaceFinder geocoding service? The Contacts API? Maybe the Flickr API?

Padding the mobile portfolio
Yahoo isn't just cutting the fat in its quest to be a more relevant mobile company. Since Mayer took the helm in July of last year, Yahoo has acquired more than a dozen companies, all of which could be a part of a robust mobile portfolio. The acquisitions have included:

Yahoo isn't being shy or subtle about its intentions to morph into a mobile-first company that connects users to its troves of content via their device of choice. We're seeing the company cut away the fat, much as Google has done as part of its refocusing efforts, while fattening up its portfolio of mobile technologies -- not to mention building up its workforce with mobile-savvy developers. What remains to be seen is whether third-party developers will get on board, embrace YQL, and build around Yahoo technologies, or instead focus their efforts on other platforms. That also could depend on whether Yahoo manages to win over more users with its own growing suite of apps and services.

This story, "Yahoo sacrifices AltaVista in YQL-centric mobile play," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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