MSN Offers Public Peek into Search Engine

Microsoft's Internet division launches a technology preview of its much-anticipated search technology as it also overhauls its MSN Search site.

Microsoft Corp. is offering it first public peek into its new search engine technology.

The companys MSN division on Wednesday launched a technology preview of MSN Search with Web search results delivered from its own Web crawler and search algorithms. It is available as an alpha test from the MSN Sandbox Web site.

The preview came as MSN also unveiled a remodel of its main MSN Search site that overhauled its interface, removed paid-inclusion results and changed the format for sponsored search listing. That site continues to get results from Yahoo Inc.s recently launched search technology, though MSN plans to turn on its own search technology within the next year, Larry Grothaus, lead product manager for MSN.

Web search is expected to become an increasingly competitive market after Yahoo earlier this year dropped Google Inc.s Web search results for its own technology and as Microsoft unleashes its own engine. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, among other company executives, have admitted that the Redmond, Wash., software maker made a mistake by not investing earlier in its own search technology.

Through the preview of its search engines, MSN hopes to refine the technology based on feedback from Webmasters and hard-core searchers, Grothaus said. The engine is the outgrowth of work that began in June when the MSNBot began crawling Web sites. The test index includes about 1 billion documents, a much smaller data set than most major Web search engines, and is available in 28 markets and 11 languages.

With its MSN Search revamp, MSN decided to remove paid-inclusion listings from results. Yahoo allows Web site operators to pay a fee to ensure they are included in its search index. MSN now is filtering out those paid-inclusion listings because customer feedback preferred purely-crawled results, Grothaus said.

"We really we want customers to feel the best about the results being served," Grothaus said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about the debate surrounding paid inclusion.

MSN also is more clearly differentiating regular Web results from sponsored listings where advertisers bid to show up in results. MSNs sponsored listings come from a partnership with Yahoos Overture division.

As previously reported, it is paring down the number of paid listings appearing above Web results so algorithmic results are more prominent. Is also has added new shading and a box around paid listings at the top and along the right-hand side.

MSN also is touting a new look and feel for the MSN Search site that it says is cleaner and provides faster loading times. MSN had been testing tweaks to MSN Search since last fall.

"Weve taken a couple steps to make sure customers are getting the most relevant results and getting them as quickly as possible," Grothaus said.

The search query box itself now includes a drop down menu that lets users refine searches to specific categories such as news and movie listings. It also includes the ability to search directly in Microsofts Encarta Reference Library 2004, an online reference guide that includes an encyclopedia and dictionary.

MSN said it has invested about $100 million in the past year in in upgrading MSN Search.

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