MSN Makes More Search Promises

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MSN's top executive again promised innovations in search technology that will help the portal bridge the gap with Google.

Speaking at Microsoft's annual financial analyst presentation Thursday in Redmond, WA, Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of MSN Information Services, said the portal has been building an algorithmic search engine during the past 11 months that would one-up rival Google.

As evidence of its progress in search, Mehdi cited the unveiling two weeks ago of a test version of its new search engine and a redesign of its search page that reduced the number of advertiser links in search results. Mehdi conceded that its search redesign, which uncluttered the search page, was lifted from Google.

"We got some feedback from people that said, 'Well, we really like this clean and fast look that some of your other competitors [have] out there,'" he said.

MSN's search advances so far have been cosmetic or stuck in the planning stages. For example, MSN has touted an "Answerbot" service that supplies information in response to questions, something Ask Jeeves has worked on extensively. MSN does not expect to release Answerbot for another three years. MSN, however, did release a search product last week called Newsbot, a personalized news search engine.

However, in the two main search areas -- Web search and paid search -- MSN relies on Yahoo. It plans to replace Yahoo's Web search with its own offering in the next year. But it plans to continue its relationship with Yahoo subsidiary Overture Services for paid listings. That agreement runs through June 2005.

Mehdi said MSN has a leg up on Google with its many services that it can connect users to quickly from its search page. For example, MSN Search's new facelift added a drop-down box for searching the Web, news or other database content such as its Encarta encyclopedia and dictionary. The search page also has links to other MSN services like Hotmail, MSN Messenger and portal content areas.

"This now is one reason why people may say, 'I may decide to go choose the MSN Search service because it's got a more expansive set of content,'" he said.

Mehdi said MSN has made major strides in building its search index, having already compiled 1 billion documents. Google's index, in comparison, includes 6 billion Web pages, images, messages and book content.

He also previewed a desktop search technology that Microsoft is working on as part of the next version of its Windows operating system, due in 2007.

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