Sources: UI features, 'search mashups' on tap for Kumo

Microsoft's new search engine will leverage Powerset technology to improve search relevancy

The new search engine Microsoft is expected to launch this week boasts features to improve the relevance of search query results, partly by letting users set custom profile information the engine uses to tailor results, said sources familiar with the company's plans.

Microsoft is expected to reveal the next iteration of its Live Search product at the D: All Things Digital event, which opened Tuesday near San Diego, although the company has not confirmed the launch and will not comment on its future plans for Live Search. However, some analysts have been briefed under nondisclosure about the technology, and reports are widespread that it will be demonstrated there.

Sources, some of whom asked not to be named, said technology from Microsoft's acquisition of San Francisco startup Powerset will show up in the new search engine, widely rumored to be called Kumo. Microsoft has acknowledged internally testing a search engine called Kumo.

Microsoft is going to use semantic search technology from Powerset to query across information sources on the Web, said Stephen Arnold, a 30-year industry veteran and noted search analyst who has done extensive research about Google. People will be able to control those queries to refine them to their preferences, he said. "You're going to have the dials and knobs that let you tell it what you're interested in."

For example, a surfer who queries the word "wax" won't be looking for information on candles, he said, but may get that information if they search without preferences. By setting custom profile information, people can make the new search engine more intuitive to their interests, Arnold said, allowing them to create "search mashups" across various Web content sources.

As sources noted, Microsoft's search engine won't at first appear radically different from existing search technology. Rather, new features will be the first steps in a long road Microsoft will take to improve its market share against Google, they said.

Similar technology is available in both Google's search engine and a search engine from a company called Kosmix, said Arnold and other sources, including Google spokesman Nate Taylor.

For example, Google's Universal Search feature turns up results for queries across various content sources, he said, and Google also has recently added a "show options" feature to its search results page that allows people to see more varied as well as time-sensitive results for queries.

Arnold said that Microsoft may not roll out these custom features immediately in its search engine, but they are on tap as the technology evolves.

A new feature Microsoft internally calls "table of contents" will be part of the new search engine, sources said. It will appear on the left side of the page and provide more options for certain search queries to try to ascertain more details on what the user is looking for. For example, a search query for "digital camera" will show a list for options such as "shopping," "review," "buy," "troubleshooting" and the like so users don't have to click on multiple links to try to find what they're looking for.

Microsoft also is including a brief preview of search results in a box that appears when someone mouses over the search results link, sources said. The preview gives a snapshot of the information the link provides so people can decide whether they want to click on it.

No matter what new technology Microsoft reveals this week, it won't be enough to successfully close the gap with Google, in Arnold's opinion. Google has about 80 percent share of all online searches to Microsoft's 6 percent, according to most analysts, and users aren't likely to change their behavior for incremental improvements, he said.

"Microsoft is now like a cornered bunny and is going to do absolutely anything to escape," Arnold said of the company's attempt to improve its search engine. Arnold said Microsoft has to do something drastic to "leap frog" over Google, and putting out search technology that other companies already have isn't going to accomplish that.

"I can give you example after example of search systems that are better than Google right now but it doesn't matter," he said.

In the meantime, rumors that Microsoft again may be close to a search deal with Yahoo have resurfaced after a financial analyst reported Tuesday that the company has registered a limited liability company in Delaware.

Registering an LLC is a "a move often made a week or two in advance of acquisitions or joint ventures," wrote Katherine Egbert of Jefferies & Company in a research note.

She said that while the move raised speculation that Microsoft may purchase Citrix, she thinks it's more likely that Microsoft will use the LLC to "boost the amount of traffic flowing through its search engine," especially in light of its expected launch of a search engine this week.

Egbert wrote that if Microsoft is indeed putting US$80 million to $100 million behind an ad campaign to promote the new search engine, as Advertising Age reported last month, then it would make more sense, given the timing and the investment, for the LLC to have something to do with a possible tie-up with Yahoo than an acquisition of Citrix.

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