A few months back, I was selected to be a beta tester for new Yahoo! search technology. Not a huge Yahoo! fan, I thought I’d be the one who ripped it apart. I didn’t know how the test was going to work or how big or small it was.

The product, Search Assist, just launched. It’s totally integrated – you pull down the little tab after searching and it helps you hone in on your search. And it offers search suggestions as you type and shows you ways to expand your search with related concepts. Sounds like lots of other things, right? It’s not. And as much as I expected to hate it, I didn’t. I really like it. Really.

Back to the beta. It was a several step application process. I just like this sort of thing, so I hung in there. I expected to be the only professional searcher, but I was wrong. This elite group of 75 or so was amazing. Researchers, professors in the field, etc.

Once accepted into the test, they sent a welcome package. Aside from the marketing materials and instructions, it had a little mouse (very cute) and a wonderful flashlight. The best I’ve seen as a promo. A keeper.

We had a search task every day for 2 weeks. We had to post our answers and how we arrived at them. And we had to critique the tool – did it help? Hurt? Frustrate? Illuminate?

And every day, they chose a winner. Good prizes. A GPS, great digital camera…stuff like that. Talk about incentive to stay in the game.

I won a telescope. Just like the one in the picture. (Except mine is still in the box. I hope that changes this weekend.)

And yesterday, I got a package. A nice canvas beach bag with a huge beach towel, book of crossword puzzles for the beach, and a lei. Seriously, a lei.

There was nothing explaining the connection between a beach vacation and the beta test ending and the Search Assist launching, but it was lovely just the same.

My first reaction was that they really spent a lot of money nurturing these testers. But then I stopped to think about the collective billing power of 75 professionals. Let’s say that the average hourly billing is $75 per hour and that each person put 12 hours into this project. That’s $67,500 for their time. So I guess they got a bargain.

And truth be told, it was really fun. I’d do it again. And don’t tell Yahoo! but I’d do it for just a ‘thank you’…

BONUS: I just found out why they sent the beach package! To publicize Yahoo! Search Assist, they partnered with the genius folks at the New York Times to create a custom, search-enriched crossword puzzle. The puzzle has Search Assist integrated right into the clues to help out if you get stumped. And to make it even more fun, everyone who completes the puzzle before October 26th is eligible to enter for a chance to win one of five trips to Hawaii!

Check it out. Promise to take me on the trip if you win?


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