Well, 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.
The 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.