Microsoft works to deliver better ads

Experimental technologies may not be remarkable enough to boost the company's lagging online advertising position

Microsoft Wednesday showed off four experimental technologies that it is developing at adCenter Labs, its advertising research group.

The developments are designed to help deliver "the right ad to the right person at the right time," said Alex Gounares, corporate vice president of advertising research and development. When that happens advertising is fun for end-users, he said.

The technologies on display were relatively incremental or similar to other offerings in the market, so it is uncertain whether they will improve Microsoft's lagging position in the online advertising market.

Microsoft Gaze, an advertising gadget that the company first discussed and began offering in beta form in early February, launches a small window of information when Web site viewers hover over an underlined word. The window looks similar to those Yahoo uses and can include videos and photos. The window also displays advertisements.

Mario Esposito, a program manager at adCenter Labs, showed off an example of the gadget being used to offer information about restaurants. The pop-up window could include customer reviews, photos of the restaurant, directions and a map. A Web site like Yelp, for example, could use such a gadget and pull in its own reviews. Typically the content in the gadgets comes from Microsoft sites like MSN or Live Maps.

Another experiment from adCenter Labs aims to help online shoppers find the perfect gift for someone. A user would fill in basic information about the person they are buying for, including gender, age and things that the person might like, such as basketball or shoes.

"We're playing on the element of surprise," said Rohen Shetty, a program manager at adCenter Labs. So if a user includes "NASCAR" as a subject the person likes, the results won't include obvious gift possibilities like tickets to races, he said.

The service displays results based on the search behavior of people who use Live Search. Microsoft collects generic data on people signed in with their Live ID who use Live Search and have filled in their profiles with information about age and gender.

Microsoft also showed off a service that could make it easier for small businesses to create online advertisements. Typically, large companies hire agencies to design art for ads. "But what about the mom-and-pop shops," said Ying Shen, a researcher at adCenter Labs.

The Creative Creator service would let a small business enter text, designate keywords, upload a logo and choose an ad size, and the service automatically generates advertisements for them. Users could choose from five ads that include different images and download the ad in various formats including JPG, Flash and Silverlight, Shen said.

Microsoft also showed off technology aimed at determining if someone is searching for localized results in order to display targeted advertising. Researchers have developed an algorithm that aims to know if a word that a person is searching for should return local results. The word "dentist," for example, should offer nearby dentists while a search for "Simpsons episodes" shouldn't look for local results. The technology is shared between adCenter and Live Search, since it can be used to both deliver better search results and offer better advertisements.

The adCenter demofest is in its fifth year. Reporters were shown just four demos but more will be on display for Microsoft employees, who can stop by to take a look at technology in development from adCenter. The technologies are experimental, so some could make it to market while others may not.

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