Microsoft Corp. is quickening its march into search by setting up an advisory group of industry insiders to preview its search-engine plans and research.
Microsofts Internet division has invited dozens of Webloggers, researchers and others to its Redmond, Wash., campus next week for an event called “Search Champs.” They are scheduled to hear about and test upcoming features for MSN Search and to meet researchers from Microsoft Research, according to several people invited to participate.
MSN Search officials confirmed the creation of the Search Champs program and likened it to MSNs earlier technology preview of its own Web search technology, which is slated to compete with Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. as early as this year. Like that preview, which was launched in June and temporarily halted in August, Microsofts latest event will provide early feedback on the companys search efforts.
“MSN created the Search Champs program as part of our commitment to listen to customer feedback on the evolving features of our search product,” MSN product manager Justin Osmer said in a statement.
The Search Champs invitation outlines two days, with the first day devoted to meeting about MSN Search and the second focused on Microsoft Research, according to several search experts.
News of the event began spreading over the past week on blogs. Microsoft technical evangelist Robert Scoble this week wrote in his blog that about 30 people were invited to Search Champs and that part of the events focus will be for MSN to gauge feedback on its search-engine plans.
Liz Lawley, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is among those invited who wrote about the event on her blog.
In an interview with eWEEK.com, Lawley said that the invitation provides few details about the types of search technologies or research that Microsoft will discussed, and participants had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that covers what they will see during the two days.
“There are already players in the [search] market, and they work well and provide a lot of value,” Lawley said. “So the question is: what will Microsoft give us to make switching worthwhile?”
Of particular interest to Lawley will be whether Microsofts search-engine plans include features that require its Windows operating system or its Internet Explorer browser. As a user of multiple platforms, including Mac OS X, she doesnt want an MSN search engine to tie her to Microsoft technology.
“I dont want something thats platform specific or browser specific so that in order to use it I have to change the way I use computers,” Lawley said.
One of MSNs first targets appears to be so-called desktop search. In August, company officials said a product for searching desktop files and e-mail would be released by the end of this year and eventually would combine MSNs Web search.
Earlier this year, MSN revamped the design and features of MSN Search, though it continues to draw its Web results from Yahoos technology. It also has previewed search services targeted to news, blogs and personalization. A beta release of MSNs news search, called MSNBC Newsbot, came out in the summer.
Other apparent Search Champs invitees are publicly disclosing their own search ideas to avoid any NDA complications. Blogger Don Park this week discussed his concept called “Search Hats” for personalizing and grouping searches.
Though he didnt directly name Search Champs, he alluded to his plans to attend the event.
“Since I am going to be exposed to some NDA protected activities at Microsoft next week and there might be some overlap between their mindset and mine, I thought I should spill some out now just in case,” Park wrote in his blog. “As to why I am helping Microsoft out and not Google: Microsoft asked, Google didnt.”