Microsoft is Staying its Course on the Search Front

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Microsoft is continuing to maneuver for a greater share of the search market, but does it really stand a chance of winning much share from Google? Officials from Microsoft were in Silicon Valley this week, discussing plans for how to outdo Google, but I doubt if any of the current moves are going to woo web workers away from the search leader.

Microsoft is a distant third, behind Google and Yahoo, in the search market, and serves fewer than 10 percent of all Internet searches. With its much-ballyhooed attempt to acquire Yahoo squelched for now, it has turned to other avenues to try to put a competitive strategy together. Will any of the new plans win you over?

One of the biggest moves Microsoft has recently made on the search front is acquiring Powerset, which it reportedly spent $100 million on. Powerset gets its semantic search muscle from the open source, cluster-based technology Hadoop. Hadoop underlies much of Yahoo’s search technology.

It’s already clear that Microsoft’s LiveSearch is going to embrace clustered search in a big way through Powerset’s technology. I’m guessing that far more natural language searching will become available through this hookup, because natural language searching requires massive processing as matches are iteratively ranked for relevancy.

That said, though, natural language searching has yet to become a hit on the web. Have you, as a web worker, historically relied on it? Did you use AskJeeves much when the compahy was focused on natural language searching? Probably not. Still, at the Search Engines Strategies Conference and Expo this week in San Jose, Satya Nadella, senior vice president for search and advertising at Microsoft, said that investments and new deep-search techniques will help the company gain share from Google.

The “investments” portion of that two-pronged strategy may be more interesting than the deep-search, and natural language efforts. Microsoft has a mountain of cash, and is already acquiring niche players in search.

As just one example of that, in April, Microsoft acquired Farecast, a site that I wrote about here.  Farecast is  focused on airline travelers. For any ticket you research at the site, produces a chart with more than two months of price history for that ticket. Pricing averages are also reported. It’s a travel search site, and an example of how Microsoft is looking for a leg up in the search competition by eyeballing niche players who offer unique spins on web searching.

Farecast is an excellent search application, and if Microsoft picks up more niche applications like this, it could attract some eyeballs. Still, though, Google is not just dominant for no reason–it does the best searches I’ve found. I’m guessing Microsoft may offer some new attractions on the search front, but has an uphill battle in winning any significant share.

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