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MSN Search: We're In No Rush To Change

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Over the past two months, there's been a run on crawler-based search engines. Yahoo intends to buy Inktomi. Overture plans to buy AltaVista and AllTheWeb. The question everyone is wondering is what impact these changes will have on MSN Search. General manager John Krass clarifies some of the rumors and speculation that have been swirling around his popular service.

For one, the New York Post reported that MSN was competing against Overture to acquire AltaVista. MSN says it was more like window shopping and that AltaVista is just one of many services it has looked at.

"We looked at everything, but we weren't bidding on everything," Krass said. "Were we serious about buying AltaVista? No."

In addition, Krass said that outsourcing remains in MSN's view the best option, for the time being.

"There's no one we can buy where we can say, 'We can plug this in and make it successful'," he said.

At the moment, MSN outsources for its results from LookSmart and Inktomi. However, as Inktomi is being acquired by MSN-competitor Yahoo, it's been widely assumed that MSN will be seeking another partner to provide crawler-based results.

Leading contenders have been LookSmart, which is readying its own WiseNut crawler for potential partners and Overture, once it finishes consolidating AltaVista and AllTheWeb.

Those assumptions took a blow when in Inktomi's most recent financial filings, it was revealed that Microsoft extended its deal to use Inktomi through December 2005. Some read that to be a deep commitment from Microsoft to Inktomi.

As it turns out, Microsoft can exit the deal before it expires, if it desires. But staying with Inktomi makes sense for the time being, as Microsoft watches how the search provider market consolidates.

"There's lots of flexibility for us," Krass said. "For right now, that's the right solution."

Which way or with whom MSN will go in the future is something even MSN isn't yet certain of. What is certain is that the company doesn't want to act rashly, Krass said.

"We're looking at all of our strategic options right now. What's the best thing to do long term, not short term?," he explained. "How we monetize [MSN's results” and all that is not as important as getting users to trust and be loyal. Since all these services are free, the better one will win. If we're bad, it's pretty easy to switch."

As part of building that user trust and loyalty. MSN is readying a new release of its MSN service. The latest beta was suggested by a recent article as Microsoft getting on the "search bandwagon."

In reality, the beta release is standard practice for MSN. The company has regularly rolled out incremental changes to its search engine for well over two years. That fits with the standard practice of Microsoft, as well -- constantly making changes that it hopes improves its products.

Chris Sherman looks at the latest changes in his What's New At MSN Search article.


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