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Microsoft Launches Search Beta: Platform Ho!

By - November 10, 2004

msftnewsearch1Well, the rumours were true, the launch is real, and the Microsoft search engine is officially here, if in beta, and still in the “Sandbox” for now. I’m told that MSFT intends to roll it into MSN after garnering feedback for the next few months, probably sometime in the first half of 2005.

Microsoft’s angle on the engine is “providing more useful answers.” In the presentation I was given, MSFT showed some new research which claimed that the time between a searcher’s query and a full answer averages 11 minutes. It’s within this window that MSFT hopes to improve search – getting an answer, quicker.

I haven’t had time to play with it to the extent I can say that it’s better or worse than its competitors, but clearly, this is a significant engine. (I’ve included links to the press site, which features the new engine, at this writing, the beta site was still the old product). Product manager Justin Osmer, who gave me a tour, says he’s confident the engine “will get us in the game.” The index currently boasts 5 billion pages indexed, and includes some innovative features, including a location-based search called “Search Near Me” and a Yahoo-like approach to well-worn keyphrases like musician’s names and the like. The engine also includes an Ask-like question answering capability. Before Google upped thier index to 8 billion, clearly in response to this news, Microsoft claimed, in early press releases, to have the largest index. Clearly it’s back to the indexing board for them on that count, not, as Linden and many others have pointed out, that it really matters in the big scheme of things.

Search Near Me works either by interpreting your IP address to geolocation, which does not always work, or allowing you to set your preferences to include your actual location. Image and News search is also integrated.

searchblderThe interface is clean and uncluttered, and includes a “Search Builder” tool that allows you to customize your query for better results. I’ll have more on this in coming days, but for now, suffice to say the game is on, and Microsoft is very much on the field.

In conjunction with the launch, Microsoft has also debuted it’s own Microsoft Search Blog (I’m honored, really…) along the lines of Google and Yahoo’s entries. It’s first entry is now up. I’m pleased to say, the comments are open.

But perhaps the most important news I gleaned from talking to Osmer was this: Microsoft has every intention of opening up its search APIs and allowing third party developers to leverage their search platform for new and innovative applications. This is where the future lies, in my mind, and I find that declaration a refreshing indication of where Microsoft is heading. “Our intentions down the road are not only to continue to grow the engine,” Osmer said, “but to also set the groundwork for a third party ecosystem that would allow others to use our technology. We as a company realize that there is a significant difference between shrink wrapped software (in other words, MSFT’s bread and butter) and the online world.”

Amen. Let the games commence!

Draft release in extended entry.

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Microsoft Launches Beta of New MSN Search Service

New MSN Search Service Helps Consumers Find and Act on Information Faster

REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 11, 2004 – MSN debuted a beta version of the new MSN Search service today, providing consumers more useful answers to their questions and more control over their search experience resulting in faster access to the information they are seeking online. The new MSN Search is designed to reduce the time and effort required by consumers to find information online – by offering the largest, up-to-date selection of online information and a new class of powerful, customizable search tools.
The global beta of MSN Search is available for public use today in the U.S. at http://beta.search.msn.com, and worldwide in 26 markets and 11 languages. The new MSN Search allows consumers to quickly receive relevant answers from a universe of more than 5 billion web documents.
New and innovative features in MSN Search provide an enhanced search experience by providing relevant answers to direct questions such as “what is the 2nd longest coastline in the world?” within the search results. In addition, the Search Near Me feature automatically provides information and resources close to home dramatically shortening the time needed to find geographically relevant information without having to sift through thousands of links. Finally, searching for news, images or music is fully integrated into the new, streamlined search experience.
“The release of our beta is a huge step towards delivering the information consumers are looking for online, faster,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft corporate vice president for the MSN Information Services and Merchant Platform. “With better results and more powerful search tools, MSN Search is creating a new, higher standard for online search – one that ensures consumers find the information they need, when they need it.”
New Search Engine Revs Up Relevance and Presentation of Online Answers
At the heart of the new MSN Search is an advanced search engine, built over the last 2 years on Microsoft technology that dramatically improves search results by offerings consumers the following features and benefits:
¬ The largest index of information. More than 5 billion web documents – larger than any web indexes reported today. With more items added continuously, the new engine increases the chances of consumers finding the information they want.
¬ The most up-to-date information. The index, much which is updated weekly or even daily, provides the most relevant, timely and accurate data as quickly as possible, while minimizing frustrating dead links.
¬ Direct Answers. Ask the search engine a question: “What is the capital of Turkey?”, and receive the answer, “Ankara” from Encarta, the No. 1 best-selling encyclopedia brand. Authoritative, direct answers are provided in a number of categories, including definitions, facts, calculations, conversions and solutions to equations.
¬ Direct Actions. Type in the name of an artist, song or album, and get directly linked to top music and other content provided by MSN Music. One click allows consumers to sample the music, a second click lets them purchase and download it.
¬ Content-Specific Search. To help consumers quickly get to the information they are looking for, MSN Search offers the ability to search for specific type of information using search tabs, including web, news and images.

New Search Tools Offer Consumers More Control

Microsoft designed MSN Search to overcome the “one-size-fits-all” approach offered by other search engines. Pull-down menus and other customization tools built into MSN Search allow consumers to control and refine their searches in the following ways:
¬ Search Near Me. If desired, receive search results tailored to a geographic location. A consumer in Portland, Maine, who needs the nearest local fire station, no longer needs to sift through online listings for Portland, Oregon. This is accomplished by assigning geographical information to web pages as they are indexed by the service.
¬ Search Builder. Customize search results by emphasizing or deemphasizing certain search criteria, such as specific sites or domains, country or region or language. Consumers who have specific criteria they want to apply to their searches can visit a menu of adjustable onscreen dials for each criterion. The dials can be reset when consumers’ criteria change. A consumer who needs current facts and figures can adjust the dial to emphasize the most “updated” results or a consumer who is looking for the official web site of their favorite television show can adjust the dial to emphasize the most “popular” results.

Microsoft is dedicating thousands of hours of many of its top developers and employees around the world to build the new search service, a complete version of which is slated to launch early next year. The new MSN Search is another example of the MSN vision to empower people globally through information, software and services to help them find, discover & experience what they want online.

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  • http://www.marketingshift.com Jason Dowdell

    Sounds like miniGoogle to me. They’re following the exact path of execution as Google. I’m wondering when they’ll announce how many queries you can have per api key and when the retalatory statement will come out of the GooglePlex about them increasing their api query limit as well.

  • http://blog.unitedheroes.net jr

    Well, the MSN search blog’s comments aren’t REALLY open. They’re currently being moderated. When I noted that their CSS is a bit hoofed on Firefox, I got:

    Moderation
    Comments on this blog are currently being moderated. An email has been sent to the owner with the details of your comment.

    It’s interesting comparing the results for queries between MSN, Inktomi, and Google. It looks like they use pretty much the same ranking metrics, with a few minor variations. I wonder how long before the SEO folks crack them.

  • Kevin

    John, can you pass along some of the research you referred to regarding time between query and answer?

  • http://www.lcgrowth.com/marketingblog.asp kate

    MSN Beta Search has been down for about an hour. I still haven’t gotten to see it. C’mon guys, release for at least a day before you take it down. I hate getting all excited and then be let down.

  • vish

    your site seems to be breaking in firefox in both windows and osx – seems to be rendering fine in IE and safari….

  • http://battellemedia.com John Battelle

    Firefox users: Until we track this bug down, to see the site properly, hit Shift and click on your reload button. We’re trying to fix it!

  • http://speed.insane.com/ Scott Johnson

    Surprisingly, MSN Search provided some decent results on the few sample searches I have run so far. The advanced search options didn’t work, however.

  • http://www.owtweb.com/ Matt McGee

    11 minutes between search and answer??!! Have they never used Google? (Or Yahoo, for that matter?) I search all day and can’t recall the last time it took more than 2-3 minutes to find what I was after.

    (Maybe the researchers were using an old 2400 baud modem….)

  • http://www.yumgo.co.uk Yumgo

    I believe Yumgo has the best idea when it comes to search.

    No matter which of the major engine wins the search engine war.

  • http://thomashawk.com Thomas Hawk

    I wrote my critique of the new MSN Search Beta, entitled, MSN Search… Underwhelming at:

    The New MSN Search Beta… Underwhelming.

  • muhabbet

    thanks very much good work