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November 10, 2004

MSN Search -- what's the news?

By Charlene Li

Thanks to the WSJ and NYT, the news is out that MSN will be launching a beta test tomorrow. I’ve seen it, but am honoring the news embargo -- so I won’t give details about it until the embargo is lifted.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about MSN’s search efforts.

+ Isn’t Microsoft late to the game? MSN and Microsoft know that they are behind the competition, but frankly, I think there’s still plenty of room and time for them to catch up. They have a sizable existing search audience on MSN.com and Hotmail users (which has the MSN Search box in the interface) will supplement that base.

+ Why are they taking so long? I’m actually amazed that they come so far and like how they’ve been rolling it out. They launched their “alpha” on MSN Sandbox in July – which was meant to solicit feedback from webmasters. The “beta” will be used to test the new search site, trying out the user interface, stress testing the engine, and fine tuning the algorithm. I expect it to be fluky, just as a beta should be. At some point, they will throw the switch and replace their current Inktomi implementation, presumably after a few weeks of beta testing. It makes sense for them to test everything out first before replacing both the engine and the interface. When Yahoo! switched from Google to their own algorithm, they kept the interface the same, which obviate the need for a beta test.

+ Will MSN bundle its new search engine into the OS, Internet Explorer, etc.? There’s already a search button on IE and you can search the Internet from the Start button – you can customize the search engine you want but the default is MSN Search. That won’t change, so any concerns about MSFT leveraging their desktop position won’t change either.

+ What about desktop search? Google has it, and so will everyone else within the next few months. MSN won't be launching their desktop search with this beta release. Desktop search will be crucial to have as part of the arsenal, primarily to lock-in users (users will have only one desktop search – using multiple indexing engines cause lots of problems. Don’t try it – I have and it was a nightmare). The key will be how desktop search is tied into applications. For example, for Web-centric users, Google will make sense. Heavy Outlook users will want good email search built into their Outlook client. And Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves will leverage their personalized Web efforts and extend their Web bookmarking features to the desktop.


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Michael Goff

Good point about users only having one desktop search! I'm a big fan and user of X1 and made the mistake of trying out Google Desktop without disabling X1 first. I'd certainly give MSN desktop search a try, but I'm very happy with X1 and suspect that I'll be even happier once the next version (now in beta) is released.

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