MSN Newsbot Gets Personal

  |  April 16, 2004   |  Comments

MSN beefs up its searchable news aggregator with additional personalized features in its continuing race to catch up in the search arena.

Microsoft enhanced Newsbot, its answer to Google's popular news search site, this week, adding personalized features that give visitors a view of their own past searches, of past stories they've read and of stories read by other users.

The Newsbot changes came one day after Amazon.com launched its new search engine, A9.com. The Amazon engine also has a search history feature, though it is not specifically focused on news stories.

Newsbot already personalized the layout of its news headlines when it launched in beta format overseas in November 2003. Users previously had to log-in to Microsoft Passport to benefit. Now, users receive personalization -- and the newly added user history -- without logging in.

The history feature displays a list of the search terms the visitor most recently used. Clicking on a given search term brings up a list of linked stories on the subject. The list is updated instantly as new stories are published. Also, by clicking on "Your History," the user gets a list of story links related to topics in which he or she has shown an interest. Users no longer interested in a topic (or concerned about privacy) can delete it from the list, or they can dump the entire list if they choose.

The other added offering, "The Daily We," displays a list of stories popular with other users. The list is refreshed every 20 minutes.

The user history data, which uses cookies, cannot be linked to individuals, the company said. Though Microsoft didn't indicate why it no longer required the Passport login for personalization, the privacy implications -- the ability to tie personal information in Passport to searching and reading habits -- might have been a factor.

Competition in the search area is fierce, with new search engines and enhancements to existing engines emerging seemingly every day. Amazon's A9.com has been the most recent entry, but at the end of March, search giant Google unveiled a search engine with personalized results. Also in March, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer vowed that the company would have its own algorithmic search engine in a year.

"Microsoft has been working on this [personalization for Newsbot] for some time. I talked to them a year ago and they said personalization was going to be a big thrust moving forward in all their search initiatives. They said this was how they would differentiate themselves from Google," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent IT research firm covering Microsoft.

"The goal here is to outdo Google," Rosoff said.

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