Yahoo is making email searches easier than ever by releasing a set of improvements to the search function in its Mail service. Calling it a smarter search, Yahoo says the new tool, which is rolling out over the next week, starting with the most active Yahoo Mail users, takes you to exactly what you're looking for, faster.
The service now has a new search results page that displays all messages, photos and documents associated with your search query (be it a keyword, phrase or contact name). (Pro tip: To know if you have access right now is to perform a search for photos and see if thumbnails show up.)
One of my favorite new features is the way photos are displayed in search results. Say you're looking specifically for a picture from your family vacation, but you can't remember the email subject line. If you have the right person specified in the From or To field, and select the Photos tab in the search results, you'll get a grid of thumbnails that show you all the relevant pictures so you can easily find your snapshot at a glance. You can even look up all the photos in your inbox just by typing in "photos" or "pictures."
After you enter your query, you can choose to sort your results by date or by relevance. The latter is a new option that uses a combination of recency (of the message), keyword, keywords occurrence in a message, among other factors, to determine what message is more relevant. That means if you search for "chicken noodle soup," a more recent message with the phrase "chicken noodle soup" occurring more frequently will appear higher up.
The new search will also consider your spelling habits to look for keywords. Yahoo cited the example of "calendar" as a keyword, saying it will display results for messages containing "calendar" as well as misspellings, such as "calender."
According to the New York Times, if you have your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter accounts linked to your Yahoo Mail, your contacts' profile information will show up as well.
While some of these new functions, such as a search results page, are already available in rival Gmail, most of the updates are novel. I don't believe the improved search will get people to migrate from existing email services to Yahoo, but it is likely to make the lives of Yahoo Mail users a little easier. Considering the oceans of documents, pictures and messages most of us accumulate in our inboxes, this is a welcome upgrade.