Ever since I interviewed Bradley Horowitz, Head of Technology at Yahoo!, 18 months or so ago I have been keeping a keen eye on pretty much everything the company does in the search realm. Not least because Bradley is a man with a real vision for the future of social search, and with his enthusiasm and passion for the technology you just know that some good has to come out of it. So it was that I noticed the Australian arm of Yahoo! had launched a new search service into Beta testing which seems to have escaped the blogosphere radar pretty much.

The Alpha Beta, and yes I do appreciate how annoying and confusing at the same time that can be, is nothing new in many ways. At heart it is a federated search services offering aggregated search feeds within a single page interface. Many companies have offered similar approaches to search over the years with varying levels of success, the best known and most commercially viable being Copernic I would imagine. But Alpha does things differently to everything that has come before, to the best of my knowledge at least, and so deserves a little attention.

Differently because the Bradley Horowitz influence is there in the social search implications. The ability to customize the search view and the search functionality in a way that Google Custom Web Search simply does not do, although adding your favourite search service to Alpha does require support for OpenSearch RSS search results syndication. Or how about being able to share your search configuration with anyone who wishes to use it, provided they are logged into the site and you have toggled the sharing switch.

OK, it’s not yet perfect by any means and I suspect it will be a few months before Alpha release 1.0 goes live, but it’s well worth checking out if you have a Yahoo! account. The Ajax powered results delivery is swift enough, and the drag and drop interface customization works nicely. I doubt that it will catapult Yahoo! ahead of Google in the search marketplace rankings, but I’m not convinced that is such a bad thing. If being second gives Yahoo! the room to breathe and its developers the space to move forward with interesting and innovate social search services I am all for cheering the runners up…