A couple of people have asked me what I think about Microsoft’s new Windows Live Search and how it will impact Google, so here goes.
No matter how Microsoft spins it, I think the impact of the improved search relevance and other features (please read Peter Galli’s report here) in Live Search is a formality largely because all of the search vendors are focused on making search-query returns look like mini-portals.
I’ve read Microsoft’s press release and the various reports about how vastly improved Live Search is, and how it is now up to par with Google and better than Yahoo. Relevancy features such as RankNet indicate that Microsoft answered the bell.
But don’t forget, Microsoft’s search engine was coming from a bad place, with its last launch three years ago not faring so well. It could only get better.
Moreover, I was interested to learn that Microsoft toned down the competitive rhetoric versus Google to focus on the customer experience, which Joe Wilcox notes in his detailed post here.
Excitement over Microsoft’s new Live Search is understandable, simply because the company delivered. I think we tend to get caught up on whether or not Microsoft did what it said it was going to do.
This is largely because the company often removes features from planned products (think WinFS and Viridian from Windows Server) and missed deadlines (the aforementioned Windows Server) in its pursuit of that perfect golden code.
We had doubts about whether Microsoft could create a formidable search engine to run with the big dogs. I have no doubts that Microsoft answered the bell well.
So, the search engine is better. But as I’ve heard so many Web 2.0 pundits say at the Office 2.0 and Gartner Web Innovation shows I attended recently, “just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.”
Several questions beg to be answered:
How will Microsoft use this fantastic Windows Live Search product to boost advertising revenues? How will Microsoft rally from several points down to catch Google’s 50-percent-plus share of the search market? How long will it take and will it matter at that point? Who is to say other factors won’t play into Microsoft’s efforts to increase share (I don’t know, a Facebook acquisition, maybe?)
But beyond that, the whole search space is moving away from the standard where queries were entered and the search engine spat back links it thought were relevant. What it has moved to is a system where queries are entered and what I can best describe as “portals on a page” pop up. Ask.com CEO Jim Lanzone explained this to me last month.
So, on Ask.com, I entered White Stripes.
It didn’t just give me a link to the White Stripes’ Web site or stories about them the way search sites used to. It gave me links to almost everything I want to know about the band, including pictures, news, lyrics and tour dates.
I did the same search on Windows Live Search and got many of those features, with a much cleaner look than it used to have (though not as eye-pleasing as Ask.com in my opinion). And something tells me we can expect the same when Yahoo relaunches its search site soon, too.
So, while I’m not as pumped as some about the new Live Search features (no more so than I was about Ask3D or the new Yahoo search approach), I would allow the pressure is now on Google to fortify the Universal Search strategy it kicked off in May.
While Microsoft, Yahoo and Ask.com execute one-shot roll-outs, Google’s MO is to slowly roll these features out over time, a company spokesperson told me today.
“Our whole thinking is, rather than dramatically change the UI, we’re gradually changing it so users are still comfortable with what they’re doing,” the spokesperson said. “And there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that is a lot more complex in terms of bringing in other content like videos, news, images.”
Regardless, Google had better do a fine job, or the eyeballs will edge elsewhere online. The eyeballs will garner more advertisers, which will garner more search revenues. Then we may see a shift in search-market share.