Yandex Introduces Social Recommendation Mobile App In U.S.

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Russian search engine Yandex has released a social recommendation search engine for iOS devices aimed at supporting Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare and Twitter users in the United States.

Wonder, a voice-and-text-activated app supported by natural language processing, allows users to ask questions about friends' activity on social-networking sites. It searches and retrieves information from the user's network based on questions like "What sushi restaurants do my friends go to in Los Angeles?" or "What type of music do my friends like to listen to?"

Arkady Borkovsky, Yandex CTO, said it took a small team at the Yandex Lab in Palo Alto, Calif. several months to develop the app. "It's meant as a tool to help people experience events with their friends," he said. "With social networks, we move from one-to-one communication to a network that combines voice, text and images."

While Google and Bing might provide information based on specific keyword searches, Borkovsky said Wonder provides an alternative view for those who are curious about what's happening in their social circle.

The app relies on speech recognition technology from Nuance Communications. It records the user's voice input and passes it to Nuance, which translates the input into text.

The text gets passed to Yandex's Natural Language Understanding Unit, a combination of technology that analyzes grammatical structure and statistical matching against a set of semantic grammars. 

Wonder integrates with several Web services to provide an informative social-search experience. For instance, Yandex mixes data from social networks with data from Foursquare to supply a street address, telephone number, menu and a Web site address for a restaurant. The iTunes API helps to provide the user with a song preview and its price, while, for example, Last.fm API lets the app show the artists' bio.

Borkovsky said the stand-alone app doesn't connect to Yandex's search engine, although it's not difficult to see how the social signals gathered by Wonder could help to target paid-search ads on yandex.com.

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