Microsoft To Launch Search Engine

Microsoft To Launch Search Engine

From The Search Engine Report
Nov. 5, 1997

It's official. Microsoft has entered the search engine game. It announced in October that it would be partnering with Inktomi to add search to its existing web properties, starting with MSN.

Inktomi is the company that powers HotBot and several other search engines, worldwide. It does the crawling and maintains a central index that all of these services tap into, though each service may tweak how it returns results or may implement customizations to make it distinct from the others.

Microsoft's entry poses two big questions: will it make searching the web uniquely better, and related to this, will it adversely affect the major search engines? The answers seem to be no.

Technologically, HotBot and Microsoft's search service will be close cousins. True, they will have different interfaces, and they may tweak results differently. Custom crawling may even produce slightly different indices.

But Microsoft is not adding any special search technology to the mix. There is no killer search app that will be created. This may occur in the future, but at launch, it will remain more of the same.

Of course, many people love the results that Inktomi-powered HotBot provides. Inktomi has stepped up its crawling activity significantly over the past year, and it remains committed to maintaining a large, comprehensive index to the web. So it's not that Microsoft's search engine will be unimpressive. It's only that nothing radically new is planned.

If there is no technological reason for people to flock to a Microsoft search service, they still may come depending on how it is marketed. But the current plan is not to position a search-enhanced MSN as a new search engine.

"Our goal is not to make MSN.com the number one search site on the Internet," said Ed Graczyk, MSN's lead product manager. "Our goal is to make MSN.com the number one site on the Internet, period. And search is a key component of that."

To understand why the addition of search may be less of a threat to existing services than many might think, it's useful to look at two other publishers that offer search: AOL and CNet.

AOL opened AOL NetFind earlier this year, a stand-alone search service that is powered by Excite. Do the same search on either, and you will receive the same results.

When NetFind launched, no one said that AOL's search engine was going to drive the others out of the marketplace, as with predictions of Microsoft's entry.

This is for good reason. NetFind is not positioned as an alternative to the major search engines for the general Internet audience. It is listed on Netscape and Microsoft's search pages and has a few other alliances. But NetFind really depends on its built-in audience of AOL users.

So why bother having a NetFind? AOL could have stuck with using Excite, without the NetFind look and feel. But this way, it can exercise complete control over the ads that are delivered. It can also more easily blend NetFind into the overall AOL experience.

Plus, having a NetFind cloak over the Excite results makes it easy for AOL to switch search providers without disrupting things for users. Search.com did the same thing earlier this year, when it dropped AltaVista in preference to Infoseek for its results. And given a growing rivalry between Excite and AOL, such a move wouldn't be surprising.

So AOL provides search, but to consider it a major player in the search engine came would be overstating things. NetFind is not constructed or positioned as a serious alternative to online searching.

The situation is somewhat similar with CNet. It uses a licensed version of Infoseek to power both Search.com and Snap's search service.

Search.com is obviously positioned to be a search service to challenge the others. But in reality, it's the other CNet properties that point traffic its way. It serves mainly an audience already coming to CNet sites, rather than as an alternative to the major search engines.

As for Snap, search exists as a core component of the service. But again, as with AOL, this is designed to serve those already with Snap, or those coming to it for the wide variety of services it offers.

So while there are search-enhanced online services, these are not heavily promoted as the place to go for those with a specific need to search. Instead, search is provided as one of the many features they offer.

It would also be fair to say that users in general do not think of these services as they place to go for when they just want to search. Instead, they flock to Yahoo, Excite and the other majors.

Ironically, many of the major search engines have made moves to become "online services" to challenge the AOLs and MSNs. But they remain search services at their core and in the minds of many of those turning to them.

The specifics of how search will be integrated into the public and subscription-based MSN areas are still being planned. But search is planned to be prominent.

"It's safe to say that it will be very evident on the site, so that if someone is coming to MSN.com for the sole purpose to search, they will be able to do that very easily," Graczyk said.

HotBot and MSN will draw from the same Inktomi database. In fact, initially, submitting a site to HotBot will add it to the Inktomi index, which in turn means it will appear in MSN, according to Kevin Brown, Inktomi's marketing director.

But despite a shared core, the two services will be distinct and may perhaps grow more so. Interfaces will be different, and custom crawling may be used to enhance the main index. Eventually, new technology may be developed to suit the particular needs of an Inktomi partners.

"My expectation is that we're going to continue to work with both of these guys, and they're both going to have their own views on searching," Brown said.

While it would appear HotBot is be most threatened by the partnership, it feels comfortable that it has a different audience that what Microsoft is after. HotBot's appeal is toward those looking for pure search, while Microsoft is mixing search into its other offerings.

"The fact that the audiences are different will probably play out in how the services are offered," said David Pritchard, HotBot's marketing director.

The choice of Inktomi is a real boon for the company, which sprung out of the Inktomi search engine developed at UC Berkeley. It developed a new search engine to power its first partner, HotBot. Later, it partnered with companies in Australia, Japan and Brazil.

Beyond search, MSN is also enhancing its directory through a deal with Yahoo.

MSN has cut a deal with Yahoo to recreate the Yahoo directory within MSN. Existing MSN reviews and classifications will be added, but Yahoo's 500,000+ listings will make up the bulk of the directory.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the Internet Explorer 3 search page and the IE4 search page. Agreements to list various search engines in these important places were formalized a few months ago. Dumping the search engines would be the ideal way to drive traffic to a more search-oriented MSN, if the goal was to make it a search center.

However, a different division within Microsoft handles those placements. To date, there are no plans to change things. Graczyk said its quite possible that Microsoft might be semi-competitive with the search engines in terms of MSN, while continuing to partner with them in terms of browser positioning.

Finally, what's the new search engine to be called? The project was code named Yukon, but no formal name has been selected.

Microsoft-Inktomi Press Release
http://www.inktomi.com/press/mjwi-pr.asp

MS launches search engine
News.com, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15392,00.html

Microsoft Network muscles into search engine business
MSNBC, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.msnbc.com/news/117833.asp

Inktomi lines up alliances
News.com, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15460,00.html

More details about the company powering HotBot and Microsoft search services. It does more than just search technology.

Microsoft-Yahoo Press Release
http://www.yahoo.com/docs/pr/release126.html