Friday, November 12, 2004

MSN Search Beta: Scraping or Comparing to Yahoo! and Google?

I've avoided doing anything so far on the new MSN Search Beta since there's such a sea of blather out there already on the topic. It's an interesting search tool, due in large part to the search building tools that provide very powerful tweaking of results with very intuitive controls (and make it easy to understand how to integrate these special parameters into more techie approaches). A fun feature is the "near me" search initiator, which apparently understands where my ISP is located and where the ISPs of other sites are located to bring up some localised content. But that doesn't seem to help if your hosting service is hundreds of miles away from your offices: I tried "shore content" on the regular search and our site came up right on top but nowhere near the top on the "near me" search. Similar searches found the nearby offices of EContent Magazine, but still no Shore. This is more of a true Beta than one might have expected, but it's clearly a beta that's trying to learn quickly from its experience: the interface has changed significantly in just a few days' time. Web Pro News also notes an apparent attempt by Microsoft to examine search results from Google and possibly Yahoo! to improve the MSN Beta search results. Certain pages don't appear in the MSN Beta search results, followed by an apparent attempt from Microsoft IP addresses to replicate earlier Google crawls, followed by the MSN Beta search results having peculiarly improved results on the same query. Hmmm. Quality assurance? Scraping? Whatever it may be, Microsoft is apparently dead serious about getting it right this time, similar to its no-holds-barred assault on Netscape's looming browser dominance not long ago. Search remains a key component for defining content value in both public and work venues, but while Microsoft plays with new technology others push on into the core of how publishers need to work with technologists to create monetizable content value. Don't rule this effort out yet, especially given Microsoft's increasingly content-savvy consumer plays, but it promises to be a long struggle with powerful and well-funded adversaries who may be several thoughts ahead of the Redmond gang for some time to come.
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