Microsoft adds interactive feature to Live Search

Feature enhances flight status queries initially

Microsoft has added a feature to Live Search designed to give users up-to-the-minute information linked to a particular search query to help make searches more interactive for users.

Microsoft has enabled a new Active Answers feature for "flight status" queries, although it will expand the feature to include other search queries later, according to a post on the Live Search blog.

Now when users type "flight status" into the Live Search query box, not only do they get results for that query, but also another box at the top of the results page that allows them to type in an airline and the flight number so they can immediately search for information about a particular flight.

The aim of the new feature is to give users the ability not only to find relevant information but to intuit what other tasks users might want to perform on the Web and get them there more quickly, according to the post, attributed to MJ Lee, a senior program manager for Live Search.

"Live Search is becoming more than just a place to get information -- it is also a place you can do things," he wrote. Microsoft's Live Search team is working with Microsoft Research to build more Active Answers features, Lee added.

Microsoft has been working for some time to improve its search engine to compete with Google, which still has a sizeable lead in worldwide search queries.

In fact, Microsoft recently hit a 12-month low with its share of search queries in the U.S., at 8.2 percent, according to comScore.

Moreover, adding interactive features like "Active Answers" is something Google has already done. The search giant several years ago introduced a feature in its search engine that allows people to type in departure and arrival airport codes into the query box to get results linking them to information from popular travel Web sites for flights matching that itinerary.

Microsoft may be betting on a new search engine it is testing internally called Kumo that uses semantic search capabilities the company acquired when it purchased San Francisco startup Powerset last June to improve its position against Google. The company, however, has stopped short of acknowledging the new search engine will be the next incarnation of Live Search.

Still, improving its share of search queries could be more a marketing and perception issue than a feature issue at this point, something even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged in a keynote talk at McGraw-Hill's Media Summit in New York two weeks ago.

"Marketing's an issue. Brand's an issue," he said. "There are a lot of things to go work on."

But Ballmer added in his talk that because people already attach certain basic search qualities to Google, being somewhat unrecognized for its search engine gives Microsoft an opportunity to differentiate itself from competitors with features search users haven't seen before.

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