In Microsoft's first offering to directly compete against search leader Google, MSN gets personal.
Software giant Microsoft is testing its answer to Google's popular news aggregator and search site. "MSN Newsbot", on MSN UK, France, Spain and Italy, signals at least one of Microsoft's intentions as it seeks to build out its own search technology.
Newsbot aggregates headlines from over 4,000 sources on the Internet, apparently provided by partner Moreover Technologies. Headlines are clustered by topic and displayed based on algorithms Microsoft established, the company said in a FAQ about the beta service. Those algorithms consider the number of sources covering the story, when the story was published, and how many people have looked at a particular story.
"MSN Newsbot is in its first stages, available in beta at this time," said Karen Redetzki, MSN product manager. "It is expected that more countries will be added over time."
Overture text ads are served on the main Newsbot page, as well as on news search results. It's not clear what criteria are used to target the ads. On Monday, both Overture listings featured merchants selling chimney flue liners. The top story on the page concerned a gangplank collapse that killed 15 people trying to board a British liner in France. Microsoft renewed its deal with Overture earlier this year. Overture paid listings will continue to appear on MSN in the U.S. and the U.K. through June, 2005.
The Newsbot service is a glimpse at what Microsoft's been up to in the hot search arena, amidst much speculation about the company's intentions. The Redmond, Wash.-based software company has made significant investments in the search arena, tripling staffing levels as it works to catch up with Google and Yahoo Microsoft has been very quiet about strategy specifics, especially in regard to paid search.
The most innovative Newsbot feature is personalization. MSN users who sign in to Microsoft Passport received personalized news based on previously demonstrated interests. It can show news from sources that person clicked on in the past, or suggest stories based on previously shown interests, the company said.
"We pay attention to the usage of the service for many reasons. We want to make MSN Newsbot (beta) more useful for our users," MSN says on its site. "By tracking the most popular stories, we can build a 'most popular' list for each section of news -- speeding discovery of what stories the world is reading. By telling users that 'People who read this story also read...' we can reduce the time it takes to find other interesting stories."
Personalization features aside, the Newsbot service is close to a perfect echo of Google's News service, also still in beta after appearing in September, 2002.
MSN choice of Moreover Technologies as a news provider is interesting. The latter company worked with Yahoo on its news search.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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