MSN finally unleashed its new search technology on the world. The official announcement from Bill Gates ended with a personal invitation to visit msn.com and “type in your question.”
Here at WebAdvantage.net, we consider ourselves to be veteran Internet searchers, often able to easily find the information we’re after. Considering we spend all day every day online, we should be. Even so, we rarely venture to type search queries in the form of questions on search engines, except for the handful of times we visit Ask Jeeves.
The thought of being invited to type in a question at MSN’s new search engine intrigued us. We decided to follow the trail of links to learn more about what they were offering. We were, at first, impressed with the pages singing the praises of the “new more precise, more powerful” MSN Search service. We were impressed, that is, until around page five of the “learn more” series of MSN’s site pages. That’s when we started to get tired of clicking “next.”
It turns out that there were 10 pages devoted to learning more about what MSN Search offers (which perhaps could have been explained less painfully). But at WebAdvantage.net, we’re dedicated professionals, so we hung in there, noting everything mentioned in the long, drawn-out explanations.
We were informed that MSN’s search results now would be drawn from its encyclopedia, MSN Encarta, enabling it to function effectively as a reference tool for finding things like definitions, conversions, geographic capitals and historical events. And that it also could perform news and image searches and would draw music-related results from its own MSN Music, placing artist information and sample song clips at the top of any music-related search results.
MSN also offered search functions for your own desktop or Outlook e-mail (if you’re so inclined to download those first). Throughout the “learn more” pages, it gave search examples. The first examples were in the form of questions, questions with specific answers like “Who is LeBron James?” and “What is the mass of Jupiter?”
MSN Search, they said, would give you more control over your searches, with filters to refine and a “near me” button to instantly localize results. Sounded good and well, but we were still more intrigued with that initial invitation to “visit and type in your question.”
So we tried it. We visited MSN Search and used one of the examples, typing in the question, “What is the mass of Jupiter?” To our shock and pleasure, there it was — an answer, right at the top and separated from the actual Web results. It said, “Answer: Jupiter: mass: 318 Earth Masses.”
Inquisitive and competitive by nature, we wondered what would happen if we typed in the same question at Google. So we asked Google, “What is the mass of Jupiter?” Amazingly enough, Google spat out an answer right at the top of its results page as well. But Google’s answer was, “mass of Jupiter = 8987 x 10 to the 27th power kilograms.” Now, we’re Internet marketing experts, not rocket scientists, but it appeared that Google provided the more precise answer.
So back to MSN Search we went to give it another try. Since the first result at least taught us that Jupiter’s mass is 318 times that of the Earth’s mass, we typed in the next logical question, “What is the mass of the Earth?” thinking that we could then arrive at our own conclusion by multiplying that answer by 318 to arrive at the answer Google had already provided.
Unfortunately, MSN’s answer to “What is the mass of the Earth?” was “Answer: World: mass: 1 Earth masses.”
You’d think that the folks at MSN would have tested their examples on MSN Search as well as testing the same queries on other major competitors before selecting them for the final cut. Well, maybe not.
We then spent the better part of the afternoon periodically asking MSN Search and Google questions to see how they’d fare. If you’re ever bored, try asking them, “How hot is the sun?” “How many eggs in a baker’s dozen?” or “How far is it from New York to Utah?”
Here’s a summary of what we learned for our afternoon of follies:
· If you’re looking for encyclopedia-type answers to questions like “What is a marsupial?” ask MSN Search (or visit encyclopedia.com or Britannica.com).
· If you’re looking for a black-and-white photo of daisies, use MSN Search because the image search is nicely arranged and you can filter results by size as well as by color or black and white.
· If you’re looking for results “near me,” stick with Google’s automatically localized results by including the city and state in your query.
· If you’re looking for the most precise answer, perhaps you should stick with Google (at least for now).