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Yahoo heads to Berkeley for Internet research

As it races to keep pace with changes on the Internet, Yahoo is heading back to school. The company that operates the US's most popular Internet site announced on Friday that it has partnered with the University of California at Berkeley to create a joint research lab near the university's campus. Called Yahoo Research Labs–Berkeley, the lab marks Yahoo Inc.'s first expansion of its research group outside its own offices in Sunnyvale and Pasadena, Calif. The lab also is part of a research shift for Yahoo, away from a sole focus on applied research and toward more fundamental scientific research into Internet-related areas such as search and information navigation, online communities, and social and mobile media, said Usama Fayyad, senior vice president and chief data officer at Yahoo. "The real intention behind this in spirit and physically is that we want to tap into the creative knowledge out there on campus, and it adds another dimension where it provides the people thinking in an academic environment with a fast outlet for [their ideas]," Fayyad said. Fayyad took over the helm of Yahoo Research Labs in April following the departure of principal scientist Gary Flake, who moved to Microsoft Corp.'s MSN division as a distinguished engineer. Yahoo's research group originated from its acquisition of Overture Services in 2003. The lab also gives Yahoo access to more academics and researchers at a time when it is locked in a heated battle for talent with competitors such as Google Inc. and Microsoft. Yahoo is tapping a leading social media researcher, Berkeley Professor Marc Davis, to lead the new lab, which is scheduled to open in August. Davis is taking a leave of absence from the university's School of Information Management and Systems, where one of his roles was as the director of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media. So far, the joint lab has attracted about 10 full-time researchers and staff. Research at the lab will primarily focus on social and mobile media. Tackling those emerging research areas requires diving into online communities and working with the scale of Yahoo's services, Davis said. Yahoo drew 372 million unique users worldwide in the first quarter of this year, a pool of interactions and connections that is tough to replicate in a traditional academic research setting, Davis said. "Scale matters, and scale matters because managing personal media yourself has been difficult to do," he said. "The scale of Yahoo and the Internet makes it possible for people to work together." Yahoo is planning to continue to expand its research labs beyond the new Berkeley site and its staff of 40, though Fayyad declined to provide details on the company's plans. Researchers also are increasingly focused on publishing through academic circles. "We don't want just advanced technology but basic scientific research to happen," Fayyad said of the labs. "The challenges we're coming up with on the Internet, they require deep scientific thought." UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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