Why the Buzz Over MSN Search Beta?

Despite speculation of its launch, the test of search relevancy and site UI tweaks has been ongoing since the fall, MSN says.

Search engine message boards and Weblogs are aflutter with news of a new MSN Search beta, but officials at Microsoft Corp.s Internet division say the beta test is nothing new.

MSN began a beta test of its Web search site early in the fall and has targeted less than 4 percent of MSN Search users to be automtically directed to the test site, an MSN spokeswoman said on Tuesday. The beta focuses on tweaks to the relevancy ranking of results and on minor changes in the sites user interface but does not include a new algorithmic search engine, the spokeswoman said.

MSN has been testing its own Web crawler and is widely expected to switch at some point to its own search engine technology as Microsoft seeks to move more aggressively into search. In June, MSN posted a Web site about the crawler, called MSNBot, and Web sites began noticing it crawling their sites.

But MSN officials said that the MSN Search beta and the MSNBot project are not directly related and that the beta is not an indication of MSNs eventual direction with its search engine.

MSN has been making shifts in its search site in recent months. In mid-January it dropped LookSmart Ltd.s paid inclusion listings from the site. However, it agreed in October to continue using Overture Services Inc.s paid placement listings despite search competitor Yahoo Inc.s acquisition of Overture earlier in 2003.