MSN Search Officially Switches to Its Own Technology

It’s official. Nearly two years after announcing it would develop its own search technology, MSN Search now offers results from its own search engine. The rollout is global, including on the main MSN Search site.

“Now, we have our platform in place. We think it’s super competitive to what’s out there,” said MSN search and shopping corporate VP Christopher Payne.

Ousted was long-time search partner Yahoo, in a move that’s no surprise to that company. Though Yahoo no longer supplies the editorial results, paid listings continue to come primarily from Yahoo-owned Overture.

Many, if not most, MSN Search users have already been exposed to the new technology over the past couple weeks or so. Under beta release since last November on a special site, the technology was migrated in front of site users over the past month.

The beta label is off. MSN Search is firmly in the search wars. It hopes the new technology, along with a massive new advertising campaign, will help it gain users.

The core search engine is good and a welcomed new voice in the space. Yet it doesn’t make a massive leap beyond what’s already offered by Google, Yahoo, or Ask Jeeves — the other three major voices of what’s deemed relevant on the Web.

New Since the Beta

A few new things came out since the beta last year:

  • Encarta “Direct Answer” expansion. MSN has been integrating answers from the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia since 2001. But the beta service expanded direct Encarta answers to 1 million topics. The final release takes that up to 1.5 million. Check out Gary Price’s closer look at this expansion.
  • Encarta link.You needn’t rely on MSN guessing you want Encarta answers. Click on the new Encarta link above the search box, and you can search Encarta directly. MSN Search is supposed to have free access to 40,000 premium answers.
  • Desktop search link. MSN’s desktop search tool wasn’t yet out when the MSN Search beta was launched. Now, those using it together with Internet Explorer will see a “Desktop” link above the search box. Users can switch between searching the Web and searching their own computers with a simple click, once they’ve installed MSN Toolbar. Firefox users (such as myself), sadly, don’t have this option.
  • MSN home page redesign. Visitors to the MSN portal site now see a redesigned home page featuring a larger, more prominent search box at the top with access to Web or specialized search, such as for news, images, or music. Music results come from the MSN Music site. This option doesn’t appear to be offered on the MSN Search site itself.
  • Search results via RSS. A new “andformat=rss” parameter added to the end of any search allows users to receive those search results via RSS (define). The feature is still very much in testing. Check this out for more information.
  • Feed discovery. New tools help users locate and find feed content from across the Web, though they’re available as part of the MSN portal rather than the MSN Search site itself. Read this for more about these tools.

What’s to Come

Now that the big job of getting a crawler-based search engine of its own working on MSN Search is complete, what’s next? I went down a list of possibilities with Payne.

  • Blog search. MSN has promised to do this, something no major search engine yet offers. When might it come? Nothing to announce yet, Payne said.
  • New vertical searches. What’s to be added next to MSN Search in terms of vertical or specialized search? “There are lots of verticals we can pick. We’ll base it on what our customer priorities are,” Payne said. Perhaps matching the shopping or video search offerings already on Google, Yahoo, and AOL, as well as blog search? “The list is a pretty good summary,” he replied.
  • MSN sponsored link program. MSN already offers its own paid links that can be purchased directly, but it’s rumored to be working on an expansion of this program to greatly reduce or eliminate links from Overture. Will this happen? If so, when? Once again, nothing to announce, Payne said.

Details on what’s to come are sparse. Payne’s excitement over having reached this important benchmark is effusive.

“The thing I’m most excited about is that now that we have this platform, we’ll be able to innovate on top of it,” he said. “We’re going to have rapid-fire innovation, things no one’s done yet.”

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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