Rumors are swirling that MSN plans to release its new search technology this week. But why's that big news? After all, hasn't this technology already been released twice now to the public?
Yes, it has. But past releases have been via the MSN Sandbox site, a location really only visited by search marketers, webmasters, researchers and others wanting to play with the new technology.
In contrast, MSN may be planning to release the new search technology in places where the public is more likely to access it. Where might that be?
- MSN Search Beta is a long-standing testing site that MSN uses. This is more accessible to the public than the MSN Sandbox.
However, if released here, the vast majority of the public still won't encounter the new technology. However, it would join the new technology up with the new look-and-feel of
MSN or perhaps show some new features we've had glimpses at before.
- MSN Search is the flagship MSN site. If the technology goes up there, that's a major change that ousts the current technology that MSN licenses from Yahoo. The Overture paid listings provided by Yahoo would remain.
One way or another, the technology is supposed to go up on MSN Search by the end of the year. That's been promised by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The timeline below provides more details about this.
What's the source of these rumors? MSN is briefing members of the press about the launch, and the news is leaking out. But exact details other than a release is planned are sparse. For coverage, see articles from the New York Times and the Wall St. Journal.
Suffice to say, if there are major press briefings underway by any major search engine, we're generally included those. If we have been briefed on something ahead of a launch, then we'll provide our usual comprehensive coverage when the launch happens. So if there's news from MSN this week, rest assured we'll bring it to you.
Here's the timeline of important announcements and releases in Microsoft's progress toward having its own search engine:
- October 1997: Rumors of a Microsoft search engine, code-named Yukon, turn into reality when
Microsoft announces it will launch its own service. But instead of using its own technology, it opts to
license search results from Inktomi. Microsoft executives proclaim the service will be "the freshest,
most current index available to consumers."
- Sept. 8, 1998: Microsoft finally releases its Inktomi-powered service called MSN Search, after dumping the idea to call it Internet Start.
- Jan. 1999: After hailing Inktomi's technology as wonderful only months before, MSN drops
that partnership in favor of AltaVista because of a better business opportunity.
- Mar. 1999: Before AltaVista's results have even been integrated into MSN Search, the company
enters into a new agreement to license LookSmart's human-powered results. These become the "main" or most prominent results on MSN.
- Dec. 1999: MSN switches back to using Inktomi's results, dumping AltaVista. However,
LookSmart's results remain the main listings on the site. Inktomi results are only shown when LookSmart has no matches.
- Feb. 2000: MSN launches its own self-serve, CPM-based paid listings on its
- Feb. 2001: MSN begins outsourcing for paid listings from Overture.
- Feb. 2003: MSN is rumored to have wanted to buy AltaVista, which Overture ended up purchasing. Microsoft then
says it was only window-shopping and is still deciding what direction to go in the future:
buy, continue to outsource or build search technology internally.
- April & May 2003: Microsoft makes decision to invest in search and build technology
internally, with a first step the release of its own web page crawler, MSNBOT.
- Oct. 2003: MSN hires Overture's chief technology officer Paul Ryan, fueling suspicion that it will develop its own in-house paid listing technology. However, Ryan
leaves the company in Feb. 2004.
- July 1, 2004: MSN makes major changes to the look-and-feel of its MSN Search site. It also
releases a preview of its new web search technology. However, this new technology does NOT power the revamped MSN Search.
- Oct. 4, 2004: MSN launches a second tech preview with some changes. We also get inadvertent
glimpses of an interesting "Search Builder" feature and relevancy sliders that appear in the works.
- Nov. 11, 2004: If the rumors are true, MSN will move its new search technology to either MSN Search Beta or
MSN Search on this day.
- Dec. 31, 2004: MSN's new web search technology should be integrated into the main MSN Search site by this date or earlier, as
promised by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. This is especially likely given that a
massive marketing campaign is in the works. It would be odd to have a big marketing push when your search
engine remains powered by your rival Yahoo. MSN's desktop search technology is due out by the end of this month or sooner, according to past
- June 2005: MSN's agreement to use Yahoo's paid listings from Overture expires.
- Dec. 2005: MSN's agreement to use Yahoo's unpaid crawler-based search results expires. The agreement can be ended earlier, if desired.
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