In a surprising act of collaboration, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft announced this week that they will all begin using the same Sitemaps protocol to index sites around the web. This is good news for everyone wanting to make it easier to get their pages indexed in a simple and standardized way, letting you spend more time focusing on your quality of content, and less time trying to appease the all of the big search giants. People who already use the Google Sitemaps service on their website will find that their sitemap is already compliant with the new standard. Those maps will now be indexed by Yahoo and Microsoft also.

The protocol is offered under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License, so it can be used by any search engine, derivative variations using the same license can be created and it can be used for commercial purposes.

Any time competitors agree on open standards it’s something to celebrate. It’s also great to see Creative Commons receiving all the more validation.

Search engine guru Danny Sullivan wrote the following tonight about the move.

Overall, I’m thrilled. It took nearly a decade for the search engines to go from unifying around standards for blocking spidering and making page description to agreeing on the nofollow attribute for links in January 2005. A wait of nearly two years for the next unified move is a long time, but far less than 10 and progress that’s very welcomed. I applaud the three search engines for all coming together and look forward to more to come.

Several people have made early public statements indicating that the next move will be to develop meaningful standards support for robots.txt files. Its hard to imagine a future when these big industry players agree on standards for things like user control of data, microformats or accessibility requirements, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.