MSN Search Beta Allows Relevancy Tweaking

Updated: The beta, which expands the connections back into MSN's other services, lets users create custom searches by specifying domains or countries to be searched and constructing more complex queries.

Microsoft Corp.s MSN division officially launched a beta of its new search engine Thursday as it attempts to make inroads into Google Inc.s dominance in the search market.

As previously reported, the MSN Search beta is available as a separate site from MSNs main search service, which will continue to gather its search results from Yahoo Inc.s index. A switchover to the new engine is expected in 2005, MSN officials said.

The beta, though, offers a peek into MSNs approach for competing in Web search with its own technology. It provides advanced features for searchers wanting to alter the relevancy of results and expands the connections back into MSNs other services, specifically the Encarta encyclopedia and MSN Music.

"Its got a little bit of bells and whistles, but in terms of the actual index, theres nothing Ive seen there thats better than Google or Yahoo," said Andy Beal, vice president of search marketing at WebSourced Inc., a Internet marketing company in Morrisville, N.C.

MSNs search beta returns results from the same Web index of about 5 billion documents that MSN first launched as part of a second technology preview last month. The index has grown considerably since the company began crawling Web sites with its MSNBot in June 2003 and first offered a glimpse into the search engine this summer.

MSN will continue to expand its index and already has increased the frequency of index updates, refreshing portions every day or week, said Justin Osmer, an MSN product manager.

Not to be outdone, though, Google immediately responded to MSNs search launch with an expanded Web index of its own. On Thursday, Google said on its Weblog that it has doubled the size of its index to about 8 billion pages.

Collectively, Google, Yahoo and MSN account for 87.3 percent of search referrals, the process by which search engines send traffic to other sites, according to Web analytics provider WebSideStory Inc. Google leads with 48.4 percent, followed by Yahoo with 25 percent and MSN with 13.9 percent.

Next Page: Creating custom searches.