If Yahoo is to get social media into every nook and cranny of its business, extending it to search could have the greatest benefit of all. Targeted search ads are projected to be a $9 billion industry this year, according to S.G. Cowen. To that end, Fake took over My Web in September. Still in beta, My Web is Yahoo’s take on social bookmarking (a concept pioneered in 2003 by the startup Del.icio.us). It lets you save bookmarks, tag them, group them, and share them with your network of friends. The more you and your friends use it, the better the My Web experience will supposedly become.

If social search pans out, it could give Yahoo a much-needed edge over Google. Google takes an automated approach to search, throwing armies of Ph.D.s and thousands of servers at the problem. It wants to make search more relevant by creating better algorithms. Yahoo also does algorithmic search, but it can’t beat Google at that game. So it’s gambling that tapping into the collective intelligence of its audience will produce more relevant search results. “It is not who has the bigger index,” Horowitz says, taking a swipe at his rival. “We hear a lot about efforts to index all the artifacts of human knowledge, but the actual bulk of human knowledge lives in people’s heads.”

That, at least, is the theory. In practice, however, tagging search results and bookmarks may still be too geeky an activity for Yahoo’s average Joe. Thus far, My Web has seen tepid growth in the number of pages saved (about 300,000) and tags applied (fewer than 90,000). That might not seem bad for a product still in beta, but My Web is seeing little month-to-month growth. (Del.icio.us, by contrast, has 10 million saved pages and half a million tags.)

Social search requires people to change their habits, and My Web works well only if you and a bunch of your friends use Yahoo. “They need to be much more open about letting people outside Yahoo see those tags,” says Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research. Fake is trying to get more pages saved by touting a “Save to My Web” button that bloggers and publishers can stick on their websites. She also plans to make it easier to connect people with similar interests. “We learned from Flickr that you need to make the experience very delightful,” Fake says.

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