Microsoft Preps MSN Search Overhaul

Microsoft's MSN business unit is slowly lifting the veil off of its clandestine search strategy. During his keynote last week at the Strategic Account Summit, Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division, revealed three new services: MSN Newsbot, MSN Blogbot and MSN Answerbot.

MSN will launch Newsbot and Blogbot by the end of this year, while Answerbot -- an Ask Jeeves-like natural language interface for search results -- will go live at a later date.

The MSN Newsbot aggregates news from 4000 sources worldwide, personalizes its display and learns to recommend relevant links by using cookies. In November, BetaNews learned of an earlier UK-only beta test of the bot. Since that time, however, the beta program has opened up to users of MSN Sandbox - a place to try out the latest MSN technologies.

There are more treasures buried in the sandbox. According to Microsoft, MSN Blogbot scours through the Net to produce blogs as relevant search results in response to customers' search queries. Redmond is billing Blogbot as a first-of-its-kind service and claims that no other search engine can provide such results.

However, a variety of RSS news feeds and blog search engines, including Blogdex and Blogdigger, have been available for quite some time. The ability to search through blogs is also an existing feature of some mainstream search engines.

To make its search engine "blog-friendly," Google purchased Pyra's Blogger.com in February 2003, and has since modified the way its indexing works. In addition, many blog authors in communities such as Blogosphere frequently cite each other blogs. To make this possible, Blogosphere offers a "Trusted Blog" search tool.

Eventually, customers will be able to query MSN's Answerbot search engine using natural language questions. Microsoft has not yet determined a date for when Answerbot will launch, but MSN product manager Karen Redetzki promised that the engine will leave Ask Jeeves in the dust.

Although work has already begun to draw attention to these services, the centerpiece of MSN's push into the search arena is a fully redesigned algorithmic search engine. An early beta of the engine's interface launched in February, but did not include the "live" version of Microsoft's newest algorithms.

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