MSN Search Preview Resurfaces

Microsoft, again, provides a sneak peek into its homegrown Web index and algorithmic search engine that has grown to more than 5 billion documents.

The public preview of MSNs upcoming search engine is back, this time with a Web index about five times fatter and reworked relevancy algorithms.

Microsoft Corp.s Internet division launched the second preview on Monday for the United States and plans to expand it to a total of 29 markets in 12 languages by Thursday, an MSN official confirmed.

MSNs latest search preview follows a two-month test that went offline in August. The latest preview incorporates feedback from the earlier alpha test as well as expands the index to more than 5 billion Web documents, said Justin Osmer, an MSN product manager, in a statement.

The growth of the index appears to put MSN more in line with its top competitors, Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Google, for example, has said its index includes a total of about 6 billion documents and images, including 4.28 billion Web pages

MSNs revived search test comes as Yahoo Inc. joins the growing list of search services letting users customize search. Yahoo late on Monday unveiled a beta test of its My Yahoo Search, where users of its personalized home-page feature can also save, share, categorize and annotate public and private Web pages.

Yahoos move follows personalized search launches in recent weeks from Inc.s search engine and Ask Jeeves Inc.

In its new preview, MSN added a technique for grouping, or clustering, search results by domain in order to make sure that users view results from a variety of domains rather than getting multiple Web pages from the same domain, Osmer said.

"Testers have voiced that this is something they want, and were currently exploring how to implement future iterations of our clustering to make the search experience better for consumers," Osmer said in the statement.

/zimages/2/28571.gifSeveral search startups are using clustering to improve results. To read more about about the technology, click here.

Among other changes, MSN also has tweaked the relevancy of search results and improved a feature that corrects misspelled search queries.

The preview is intended as an early look into MSNs development of its own search technology. While MSN Search draws its results from Yahoo Inc.s search index today, the company plans to switch to its own technology in coming months. About a year ago, MSNs own Web crawler, MSNBot, began spidering Web sites to build an index.

Microsoft executives, from Chairman Bill Gates on down, have emphasized the software makers plans to aggressively tackle search itself. Already, MSN officials have said they plan to launch a desktop search product by the end of this year.

As far as the switch to its own index and algorithmic engine, MSN executives since the summer have been saying it would occur "within the next year.".

MSN officials also put no timeline on how long the latest sneak peek would remain open to the public. It also is available through the MSN Sandbox site that highlights research and development work.

Meanwhile, MSN this week convened a two-day meeting with a group of about 30 so-called "Search Champs" at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters. The group of Webloggers, academics, international journalists and other users are scheduled to preview MSN Search technology and plans as well as meet with Microsoft Research.

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