Microsoft Mulls Paying Users of Its Search Engine

The Redmond giant suggests sharing ad revenue with users in order to boost MSN's Internet search engine.

To improve the audience of Microsofts Internet search engine, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggests using cash and various freebees as a lure.

A Microsoft spokesperson adds that its a possible service, but that Microsoft has no plans to introduce it.

When a startup like Newsvine Inc., an online distributor of user-generated news, offers outright bribery to attract attention, its one thing. Its generally understandable when GoodSearch, which uses Yahoo Inc. search technology, distributes a portion of its ad revenue to charities or schools selected by users.

But Microsofts apparent intention to, in effect, offer something like a nickel-a-search turns heads enough to strain a neck muscle.

"Microsoft has looked into sharing some of its online-advertising revenue with consumers, but at this time there is nothing more to share," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. She had no additional comment.

Microsoft may in fact be following the lead of Google Inc., the leading Internet search engine.

In early November, it introduced a new program for advertisers. To entice more Web interests to feature ads delivered by Google, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet giant began to share some of the revenue the ads generate.

As to their motivation, is Microsoft just matching Google in the Internet search feature wars? Or, is it really that desperate to catch up to No. 1 search provider Google and No. 2 Yahoo Inc.?

Google handled 45 percent of U.S. search queries in September; Yahoo was second percentage-wise. Microsoft has handled 12 percent of the queries, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Another unanswered question is: Whats the value of Microsofts reward for the keyword? Will it be something substantial, or will it amount to nothing more than a consumer loyalty program a la frequent flier miles?

The suggestions do hint at how Microsoft is rapidly shifting its own view of the distribution of some of its dominant software products, particularly within Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts new "" initiative.

Microsoft still sells its software products via shrink-wrapped disks, but increasingly it plans to distribute the products, some for free, over the Internet.

When using this "sea change" as context, actually paying someone to use a product is within the scope of Microsofts business model.

A prevailing factor at work here, possibly, is the growing significance of customer participation in the fabric of the Internet.

Major Internet interests Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others, are increasingly offering online features built upon contributions from registered users.

By offering little nuggets as reward for use, Microsoft is pushing this current trend of interaction to an extreme.

A new fact of life for Internet search engines—that everyones using them now—may also help explain Microsofts motives.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Internet search engine saturation.

Some 91 percent of Internet users now routinely search for information during their Web sessions, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

That implies that theres virtually no one left that hasnt latched onto a favorite search engine by now, leaving room for such desperate-sounding moves.

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