Yahoo reaches for SkyPhrase in a natural language processing purchase

Yahoo Labs takes in SkyPhrase
We don't know how to SkyPhrase this, but it could be kind of a 'big deal'

Yahoo may start understanding our turn of phrases a little bit better now that it has announced the acquisition of SkyPhrase.

The small, New York-based startup has been involved in natural language processing, which allows computers to better understand the complexity of human language.

"The team of four has built amazing natural language processing technology and we're excited to welcome them to our Yahoo Labs team in New York," said Yahoo in a 3-sentence Tumblr post.

The search engine portal didn't disclose any other details or the amount it paid to bring the SkyPhrase team onboard. However, it probably didn't come in a Cyber Monday deal.

What SkyPhrase did

After a little digging, TechRadar found a cached blog post from the SkyPhrase website laying out the startup's primary goal: "make it easy to use all data [simply]."

To that end, the team began tinkering with a web analytics NFL statistics service that enabled users to ask questions without having to phrase them in a particularly awkward way.

"We focus on giving people significantly more power over their data in specific areas, and allowing developers to easily add support to other areas," mentioned a now-hidden blog post from October.

"While we currently only cover web analytics and football statistics, our technology makes it extremely simple and easy for developers with little knowledge of linguistics or artificial intelligence to create natural language interfaces to their own data and applications."

Whether or not Yahoo picked the company up for its popular Yahoo Sports fantasy teams division or for something broader remains to be seen.

May be in a race with Google to define 'it'

SkyPhrase's goal of understanding human language may pit Yahoo against Google in a race to define the context of the word "it" when a user phrases a series of questions naturally.

This is something that Google announced as part of its expanded knowledge graph back at Google IO. It dramatically called this "the end of search as we know it."

That's because Google, and maybe now Yahoo, are in a race to answer the questions that users often visit search engines for.

They want to "answer, converse and anticipate" the next move without forcing everyone to speak in antiquated keyword phrases.

SkyPhrase is the limit

Whether SkyPhrase represents the future of search is for now unknown, but we posed that very question to Yahoo and will update this story with an answer when we hear back.

For now, the startup's new website landing page says: "In Yahoo, we have found a company that not only shares our vision, but delivers a rich collection of information and services to a massive user base.

"We are excited to join Yahoo Labs to continue to work on our shared vision of making computers deeply understand people's natural language and intentions."

We'll just have to wait until the language of what this natural language processing company means becomes clearer.

Matt Swider