Google, Yahoo Shine Searchlight on Adobe Flash

Adobe, Google and Yahoo have joined forces to add dynamic Web content and rich Internet applications (RIAs) to search results. The two search companies will use an optimized version of Adobe’s Flash Player technology to improve their engines’ abilities to index the Flash file format (SWF) and scan information contained within the files.

This, according to Adobe, will provide more relevant automatic search rankings of the millions of RIAs and other dynamic content powered by Adobe Flash Player and which would otherwise remain outside the scope of traditional Web searches.

Google has already begun to meld the Adobe Flash Player technology with its search engine algorithm.

A Yahoo rollout is expected to begin soon — for now, the company works with Adobe to “determine the best possible implementation,” said Sea Suchter, vice president of Yahoo search technology engineering.

Coming Into the Light

SWF is a file format Web developers use to create the rich applications and interactive content using Adobe Flash Player. Flash Player, according to Adobe, is installed on more than 98 percent of computers connected to the Internet.

This new partnership will expand search results from just the static text and links within an SWF file to include RIAs and dynamic Web content, areas that have been tricky for search engines to fully index due to their constantly changing states based on user interaction, time and any number of other factors. It’s a problem faced by many of the various RIA technologies.

The solution for Google, at least, was to put an optimized version of Adobe Flash Player on its servers. This allows the search engine to index any SWF file by running it through the actual Flash Player, explained Justin Everett-Church, senior product manager for Adobe Flash Player.

“All that content that’s there will be attributed to the HTML page [that it’s] holding onto, so that when people click on a [link] in the search index, it will go to the right place,” he said.

The new addition to Google Search will expose a lot of the Web’s rich media content that may have been hidden from traditional searches, such as games, Web applications, Web sites and other content that has a lot of interactivity.

“What we’ve done to make this work better is we’ve provided the Flash Player so a SWF file, which is our Flash content, will play back normally — just like an end-user — and then Yahoo and Google are providing the code that’s kind of like the virtual user that drives the application. It clicks on things and makes choices and just navigates around and through an application or a Web site. At every state, it gets back all the text and all the links that are available there,” Everett-Church told TechNewsWorld.

Big, Better Searches, but No Pictures Please

Web users who frequent Google and Yahoo for their Internet searches will see a greater number of search results that will include Flash content, giving them a lot more options. Users will never know that it’s Flash driving them toward the new search results, said Everett-Church.

“It’s not going to slow down anything for the end user. It will take longer for Google to index the Web because there is a lot more content out there now than there was a couple of days ago,” he added.

Content developers will not have to do anything, according to Everett-Church.

“We’ve got 12 years of SWF files out there, and all of them will be indexable through this system without having to change anything. But it does mean our customers are going to be able to keep giving their customers the great experience Flash offers without having to make any of the trade-offs around searchability and getting customers to their Web site,” he pointed out.

Image-only SWF files, however, are not included in the new technology. That functionality is in the hands of Google, which has adopted a gradual approach to rolling out SWF file searches.

“Right now, we’re concentrating on doing a solid rollout of the text and link information, because that’s really the critical part of getting it searchable. Of course, with Google and Yahoo, you do get the image search, and that’s something we want to support. A lot of that can be done with the technology we have. But it is a phased approach, and we’ll expand as we can. It’s really about [Google’s] timing and when they’ll release updates to their search index,” he concluded.

Flash files that load via JavaScript may also be left out of the index, according to Google.

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