Ballmer: MSN’s Search to Debut Within a Year

Redmond, Wash. – Microsoft Corp.’s CEO Thursday declared MSN would enter the search space with its own algorithmic engine within the next year and predicted that eventually “all marketing will have the characteristics of online” as PCs become connected with TV sets.

Steve Ballmer spoke at MSN’s annual pow-wow for its clients, partners, and industry-types, the Strategic Account Summit. The conference — for which Microsoft is footing the bill — drew 760 people, 510 of whom are online marketers, advertisers and other entities not affiliated with Microsoft, an MSN spokeswoman said. Last year’s event drew 400 non-Microsoft attendees.

Speaking to a rapt crowd of about 500 crammed into the main hall of Microsoft’s conference center, Ballmer said, “there’s no magic about search; all it takes is good, hard work,” and when MSN’s algorithmic search hits the market, “you’ll see good competition in the search arena.” Ballmer made his remarks as the company kicked off the two-day event at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus.

Ballmer’s enthusiasm was echoed in the demeanor of the high-energy crowd packing the conference center, which was so full Thursday the event exuded a sort of “geek Woodstock” air. Offerings of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, among other foods, reinforced the impression.

Bubbling with energy and clad in a blue shirt and gray slacks — echoing the “business casual” dress suggested for the convention — Ballmer at one point reacted so enthusiastically to a question that he accidentally tossed his pen in the air.

“For a long time we outsourced search,” Ballmer responded to a query from the audience about MSN’s search strategies. “People say Microsoft wants to do it all — we outsourced this, and shoot, I wish we had done it all,” he said, drawing a burst of laughter from the crowd.

“Our hardcore software developers can do very, very, very well. You’ll see good competition in the search area and that will be good for business,” said Ballmer of the company’s plans to unveil its own product.

Microsoft will be a late entrant in a space in which Google has long been dominant. Yahoo this year tossed its own hat into the ring with an entry that so far is getting high marks from industry experts, though its paid inclusion program is raising some eyebrows.

MSN still isn’t specifying a launch date for its engine, but the company did give some indication of its plans for paid search. This week, the company said it would distinguish between paid and organic search results when its search pages re-launch in July.

“Microsoft is clearly very confident about their search strategy,” said Nate Elliott, analyst with Jupiter Research, owned by Jupitermedia, parent of this publication.

“We believe that there’s room for three major players in search marketing. MSN doesn’t have to displace Google or Overture. They could just become the third major vendor,” Elliott predicted.

When he wasn’t outlining search plans, Ballmer described a “revolution” in technology, including PCs, the Internet, digital entertainment and wireless devices, over the next five to ten years that will blur the lines between various media and technology. As PCs become connected to home entertainment media such as television, “all marketing will over time will have the characteristics of online,” Ballmer predicted.

Ballmer refused to comment on how close MSN was to behavioral targeting and marketing online. Ballmer also refused to comment when asked if MSN will buy AOL.

“Don’t read too much into the rumors…but some will come true,” Ballmer said.

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