“Search without a box” – A chat with Andrei Broder (Part 1)

  • Posted March 3rd, 2006 at 11:10 am by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Interviews

A while back, we spent an hour interviewing a new colleague of ours, Andrei Broder. Andrei joins our talented team here at Yahoo!, in the role of Yahoo! Research Fellow and Vice President of Emerging Search Technology. Andrei’s decades-long career in search includes his time at AltaVista as vice president for research and chief scientist, and as we noted before, Broder is co-winner of the Best Paper award at WWW6 for his work on duplicate elimination of web pages and at WWW9 for his work on mapping the web.

In this first segment of a three-part interview, we asked Andrei about his decision to come to Yahoo!, and generally got out of the way as we listened in on Andrei’s extraordinary relationship with search. We have combined the normal Q&A format with some audio for your listening pleasure.

Happy reading!
Tim, Jeremy and Tara


When it was announced that you were joining Yahoo!, you mentioned in an interview that you knew you’d be disappointing 2/3rds of your friends. Why did you say that?

Well, the industry is pretty small, and I had offers from Yahoo! and the other big guys in search. I have many friends at all three, and no matter which one I chose, two-thirds of my friends would be unhappy that I didn’t chose them!

So’ why did you choose Yahoo!?

My background is research. People often ask what is the difference between research and advanced development. It’s a very interesting question these days, because it used to be that research looks five years forward and advanced development is much shorter term. That’s not true any longer because the cycle has become so short. Research and advanced development are beginning to sync up.

But there is a fundamental difference: The goal of research is to advance the state of the art in the world. The entire research community together advances the state of the art. Companies, such as IBM and Microsoft, support research because the pie gets larger and everyone benefits. Yahoo! intends to pursue a similar open approach to development, research and publishing and the research environment and goals at Yahoo are more compelling to me right now.

Where were you before?

I was in New York, but I am very glad to be back in California. I was working in Hawthorne, just outside of Manhattan, and lived in Riverdale, it was nice. There’s no place like New York, culturally. And by the way, we have offices in New York; Yahoo! Research has an outfit there in the old HotJobs office.

What do you do outside of work?

I ski. I broke my shoulder skiing four years ago, and now that I’ve moved back to California, I’m ready to go skiing again!

Have you ever had an epiphany about your research or work while you were skiing?

Ha! Not while skiing, but While I was at AltaVista, I traveled a lot. On a trip from Rome to Zurich, I was writing email and doing other things you normally do on a business trip, and seated next to me was a Korean-American girl, 9 years old, very talkative. She was asking me lots of questions, what do you do, what kind of computer is that. And I was telling her I work at AltaVista, and she said, ‘Oh, I know that: it’s a search engine! But we are not allowed to use it.’ So a precocious 9 year old knows what I am working on. And that was pretty amazing. If I had said Digital or Compaq, she would have no idea what I was talking about. That’s the magic of the web.

At what point did you decide to get into search?

In this audio segment, Andrei talks about his graduate student roots, his advisor Don Knuth’s impact on his future, and one of his earliest, and best known papers on New Duplicates.


That’s it for today. Next week, Andrei talks about moving from information retrieval to information supply, and ‘search without a box.’

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