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What's Cooking in Search Engine Labs

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Want a peek behind the scenes at the research and development efforts going on at the major search engines? Here's where to find the freshest info.

All of the major search engines have a history of previewing new features to a select group of beta users. Google pioneered the concept of opening up public "labs" in May 2002 to showcase technology in development. A year later, Overture followed suit, launching Overture Research, which was later rebranded Yahoo Research Labs after Overture was purchased by Yahoo.

Today, all of the major search engines have some sort of forum for sharing new developments with interested users, ranging from blogs with occasional postings to formal "lab" sites such as Google's and Yahoo's.

Of all the major search engines, Ask Jeeves' shares the least regarding its upcoming developments. The Ask Jeeves Blog is the company's only online channel for communicating about new developments, and typically, new features or technologies are described only when launched.

For other insights into Ask Jeeves, check out Jeeves' VP Mark Fletcher's Wingedpig.com blog. Mark writes on a wide range of subjects, and occasionally his comments on technology provide interesting hints at what may emerge from the labs of the Butler.

Google, as mentioned, uses Google Labs to showcase upcoming technologies. While the tools available in Google Labs are interesting and often useful, they represent only a fraction of the research and development activities going on within the company. If you're technically inclined, you'll find a rich resource in Papers written by Googlers, an extensive list of publications by Google employees.

Speaking of which, many of the computer scientists working at the search engines publish papers or speak at conferences, often providing valuable insights into R&D work at their companies. A good way to find these types of papers is to use the CiteSeer.IST search engine, a specialized tool for academic computer science research. Search by company name, or better, the names of individual employees, if you know them.

Many Googlers also publish blogs, and like all blogs, quality varies greatly. There's a good list of blogs from both Google and Yahoo employees from Google Answers. Search Engine Watch members also have access to all SEW blog posts referencing Google: Employee Blogs, MSN: Employee Blogs and Yahoo: Employee Blogs).

Of all the major engines, Microsoft offers the widest array of resources providing insight into the innermost workings of the company's search efforts. Like Google Labs, the MSN Sandbox is a showcase for new and experimental technologies.

MSN also runs the MSN Search Feedback Wiki, where users can ask questions, offer suggestions and otherwise provide feedback, and interact with members of the MSN Search team.

Microsoft is also a hotbed of blog activity. MSN Search's WebLog and the MSN Shopping Insider are the two official blogs covering search activities at Microsoft. Channel 9, a blog maintained by the folks working for the Microsoft Developers Network, often has some interesting insights into search activity.

And long before Google launched Google Labs, Microsoft Research has been publishing information about its work. The Search, Retrieval, and Knowledge Management group is tasked with exploring search of all types. But be sure to check out the work of the other research groups—MSN Search is drawing from the work of many areas at Microsoft Research.

Yahoo Research Labs still exists, but the real goodies from the company are now found at Yahoo Next.

Yahoo also publishes the Yahoo Search Blog. One of my favorite features on this blog are interviews with Yahoo's working on interesting projects within the company.

Last week, shopping search site Shopzilla opened Shopzilla Labs, featuring a demo site they call Robozilla, showcasing new shopping search technology. I hope this is the start of a trend with specialized and vertical search companies revealing more about their own ongoing R&D efforts.

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