Custom Searches

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-11-11 Print this article Print

MSNs Search beta in many ways follows the approach of Google and Yahoos search engines. Its design is simple, and it provides a series of tabs above the query box to search the Web, news or images. "The search engine itself is very vanilla and designed to be similar to Google and Yahoo, so if people switch over to it, they wont be shocked," Beal said.
But an advanced search feature called Search Builder stood out to Beal and other search watchers. It allows users to create custom searches, where they can change the importance of various search criteria. They can specify domains or countries to be searched and construct more complex queries.
They also can adjust relevancy based on the timeliness of content and can link popularity using a dial-like interface, Osmer said. Users can save the advanced queries as bookmarks in their Web browser, he said. "It puts control into the hands of the users and lets them add a touch of personalization into the search experience," Osmer said. MSN also delved slightly into local search in the beta. Instead of clicking the "search" button when entering a query, users can click a "Search Near Me" button. It returns results bases on users locations. By default, MSN uses the location of a searchers ISP, but users also can enter their specific location. But unlike local-search offerings from Google and Yahoo, the feature returns Web results and does not include business-directory information. Osmer said MSN has added geo-location tags to the Web pages in its index to return local results. The beta also tied search more closely to MSNs other online sites to return more than a Web link. Specifically, MSN Search displays excerpts of Encarta entries above its algorithmic results for queries about common facts, definitions and calculations. Searches about a musical artist, album or song return a highlighted section of information from MSN Music and include links to hear an audio clip or buy music. "Those are our first crack at getting questions immediately answered for people and to help them get through their search experience as fast as possible," Osmer said. The approach appears similar to Ask Jeeves Inc.s "Smart Search" strategy, where it will return information about everything from movies and local weather to travel and famous people atop Web results using data from its network and partners. Read more here about Ask Jeeves recent upgrade focused on personalization. MSN plans to add more features to its search technology before the full launch, Osmer said. The company has publicly discussed plans for a search service for blogs, called Blogbot, and a natural-language search service called AnswerBot. Neither is part of the search beta. Next month, MSN is expected to launch a desktop-search product for tying in hard-drive data, such as e-mails and Office documents, with Web results. Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional quotes and background. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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