Microsoft took second shot at Google in a week, this time targeting organic search, Googleâ€™s signature product. At a press event held on their Redmond Washington campus, Microsoft engineers showed off a number of search related features MSN is working to introduce in the coming months. To demonstrate the strength of their pending products, Microsoft evoked a name synonymous with excellence, Michael Jordan.
Search and other online services are extremely important to Microsoft. Though their core competencies have (arguably) always centered around their box-and-ship software, the industry and its users appear to be moving to online services.
MSN is a constant third in search stats, hence its constant (though inconsistent) focus on search technologies.
Calling the competition between major search firms an arms race, New York Times reporter John Markoff was one of 300 reporters invited to, â€œâ€¦ an event intended to showcase the companyâ€™s research prowess.â€
Four tools, each of which clearly resemble products currently offered by Google and MSNâ€™s other rival, Yahoo are outlined in Markoffâ€™s column today. An interesting note about these tools, though they are similar to what Google and Yahoo offer, they have unique attributes only Microsoft can incorporate into their system.
The first was a service called Mix, demonstrated by Vista interface designer Lili Cheng which offers users ways to organize and share their search results.
Next, Markoff was shown a prototype browser known as Web Assistant. Markoff explains Web Assistant saying it is, â€œâ€¦intended to improve the relevance of search results and help resolve ambiguities in results that, for example, would give a user sites for both Reggie Bush and George Bush.â€
According to design team member Silviu Cucerzan, Web Assistant is aiming to, â€œâ€¦ change the way we interact with information.â€
The third (and perhaps fourth) item(s) emerging from the event was a Personalized Search tool demonstrated by MSN search expert Susan Dumais. According to Markoff, the tool, â€œâ€¦pulls together several hundred results and then compares them with the index that Windows users can build of the documents on their hard drives, a feature called Desktop Search.â€
This is the point where Michael Jordan enters the conversation. When Jordanâ€™s name is evoked, people stop and listen. This is likely because Michael Jordan is thought to be among the greatest machine-learning engineers in the world. Bet you didnâ€™t know that.
Although the Michael Jordan in question works at the University of California at Berkeley and is a noted engineer in his field, his online profile is greatly overshadowed by the taller, better known basketball star. Â British General (retired) Michael Jackson would have a similar problem.
The personalization feature demonstrated will scan usersâ€™ computers to draw matches between search results and information they have already accumulated. Using Michael Jordan as an example, Microsoft engineers and other IT workers would likely be more interested in the way the machine-learning Jordanâ€™s mind works than they are in the way basketballâ€™s Jordan appeared to make magic work.
The direction Microsoft is signaling here is similar to the one Google and Yahoo have been looking at for several years. The best search results are those in which the individual user finds exactly what she or he wants immediately. By using personal information to assist in the construction of search results made to order for each user, an ocean of useless ambiguity can be parted.
SEOs should view this as a part of a long-standing trend toward interest based search. As with Google, MSN is likely to look into a cache of personal records in an attempt to examine exactly what in the world each user is search for. That means SEOs have to help get client documents or references to those documents into the folders being examined to refine search results.
More info on whatever it is MSN is working on as details become available.