Microsoft guns for Google on news search

In what appears to be an effort to grab headlines from Internet rival Google, Microsoft introduced a new beta service to the MSNBC.com Web site on Tuesday which offers visitors the ability to search for and receive personalized news.

Google has its own news offering, in which stories are aggregated from some 4,500 sources and displayed using a computer algorithm to determine relevance. Microsoft's service, MSNBC Newsbot, does much the same, but is powered by MSN search technology.

MSNBC Newsbot scans 4,800 news sources and provides a "virtual newsstand" of what it determines to be the most relevant news and images, in seven broad categories, such as world news, entertainment and sports, Microsoft said. Visitors can also personalize the selection by searching on topics, and the service suggests stories based on what visitors have previously read.

The site offers a "Your history" link, with a list of recently read articles, and provides a feedback form, as the company says that it is still evaluating the offering.

The service is currently in beta on MSNBC.com, the joint venture news site run by Microsoft and NBC News (owned by NBC Universal). Microsoft said that Newsbot is being offered for a limited time in a testing period. The Associated Press is also participating in the beta by authorizing the use of its AP Online news product, the software maker said.

Microsoft has previously launched MSN Newsbot beta sites for some of its international properties; it is already available in German, French and Spanish, for example.

The new offering comes as Microsoft aims to stake more of a claim to the Internet search market, which is currently dominated by Google. Microsoft rolled out enhancements to its MSN Search last month and announced that it had acquired e-mail and desktop search venture Lookout Software less than two weeks ago.

Both Google and Microsoft are using computer algorithms and not human editors to determine the top news on their pages, and the individual technologies the companies are using appear to be generating quite different results. The top news on MSNBC.com Newsbot on Tuesday morning was a story from the St. Petersburg Times on the veteran affairs department pulling the plug on a trial computer system, for example. Google News' top story was on former U.S. President Bill Clinton's address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston on Monday night.

News headlines for individual sections, such as world and U.S. news also varied dramatically, except for the business categories where Google's forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) -- valued as high as US$36 billion -- grabbed both company's headlines.

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Scarlet Pruitt

IDG News Service
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