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Monday, February 26, 2024

Q&A With Microsoft Live Search General Manager Derrick Connell

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been more than a year since Microsoft Live Search launched. At the time, I remember being impressed with the functionality of the product, and thinking to myself, “this ought to heat up the game some—it’ll be interesting to see how the competition responds.” Well now that Live Search has been out for a year, I thought it would be interesting to get an inside perspective on what’s going on with Live Search.

Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to chat with the person who would know best: Derrick Connell, the General Manager of Live Search. Following are Derrick’s remarks from our discussion, where he shares his opinion on the product, its future plans, and his views on search in general.

Q: What do you believe is the weakest element of algorithmic within the Big 3 players today? Relevancy? User experience? Something else?

Customization. We believe relevancy is not defined by math—it’s defined by people—and relevancy likely has a unique meaning for every searcher. Our goal is to build and deliver services that bring new levels of control and personalization to the web experience.

Is there room for another major search engine to enter the market or capture significant share?

Absolutely. We believe the search industry is in its infancy right now and there is room for improvement across all search engines. We welcome all competitors into the search engine market, as competition is what will bring the search industry to the next level.

What is the current size of the Live Search index and what are your plans for its growth?

The Live Search Index includes more than 5 billion documents, more than 400 million images, and more than 3 million instant answers.

What do you believe the key differentiators are for Live.com?

Internet search gives everybody the same results the same way no matter who they are or what they care about. Live Search lets you control your search experience so you can find and organize the information you need, the way you want. Image Search is a great example of this. You can use Smart Scroll that offers continuous scrolling of results and gets rid of pagination, hovering over an image gives you all the associated meta data so your search results page is uncluttered, and with Advanced Image Viewing options you can find and image fast and save it to a scratchpad as you search.

What are some of the new features on the horizon?

We have seen a lot of traction with our Recommended Searches and Related Searches features and we have also received a lot of great feedback on our Image Search, so look for more UI features like those coming this year. We don’t have anything specific to announce at this time, but are continually looking to improve Live.com and Live Search and are looking forward to the months ahead.

What are the most popular features used on the platform?

Our verticals (Search Scopes) are growing in popularity. Maps and Image being the most popular, but we’re continuing to add new categories and make improvements to what we have now like QnA, Book Search and Video Search.

What are your plans to grow market/query share?

We believe a strong foundation, combined with personalization of Live.com, and customization of Live Search will enable us to make significant progress toward our business goals. Over the last nine months, we focused intently on bringing Live Search from beta to final version. With our search experience now in the right place for widespread consumer use, we are just beginning the execution of our broad marketing strategy, as well as building strategic partnerships that we expect will expand and grow our user base over time.

What are your plans in relation to mobile and social search?

Both of these areas are still in their early stages. Mobile is an area where there is a lot of potential and where we are currently leading with SMS search, MMS technology, instant answers, real-time location integration and so on. Social search is very much in the early stages, QnA being our initial offering there, but more is certainly to come. We are going to continue to invest in both of these areas as the activity in the marketplace continues to pick up and consumers get more engaged in the technology.

What are your plans to leverage user generated content sites?

Soapbox on MSN, Live Search QnA, and Live Search Maps Collections are examples of Microsoft’s commitment to developing user-generated content.

Soapbox on MSN Video is our user-upload video service that is currently in invitation-only beta. Soapbox on MSN Video makes it easy for people to express themselves by uploading, discovering and sharing personal videos with the Soapbox community and others around the world. At this time, it is being rolled out to select beta testers and via friend-of-friend invites. You can sign up to be wait-listed for the beta at http://soapbox.msn.com.

Another great example of how consumers are customizing Live Search is a map that contains links to traffic cameras throughout the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. Created in Live Search by our users, the map aggregates data from a variety of sources and consolidates that data on Live Search to share with other users.

We’ve learned from customer feedback that people want search to be faster and more relevant. We’ve seen firsthand that customers enjoy showing off their smarts and helping people out. We believe that through Live Search QnA our consumers will be able to make direct connections to information they want by asking a question, reading other people’s answers, or searching the site for information about the topics they are interested in. As with Live Search, consumers will have control of their search experience, customize it for their context and present search results in a usable format, thereby empowering users to make their own choices.

What do you believe will be the key to maintaining a dominant market position in algorithmic search in the future?

Our goal is to build and deliver services that bring new levels of control and personalization to the web experience. Live.com delivers on this goal by providing a personal search experience in which customers can harness the power of Live Search to find, customize and track news, images, video, RSS feeds, and blogs across the web. We like to use the term “full page relevancy,” it is much more than what results are numbers 1, 2, & 3 (and relevancy defined in that way we are on par with the competition in a number of areas, better in some, and more to do in others), but what is available on the page to make the results even more relevant.

Thanks, Derrick.

Surely, getting the inside scoop beats sideline speculation any day, and given Derrick’s input, it’s clear that Microsoft is betting heavily on customization as a way to beat the competition. It will be interesting to see how consumers like this approach, and if it will help Microsoft grow their query share from a distant third place to something more in line with Google or Yahoo!. But regardless of the outcome, I agree with Derrick on one thing: Search is definitely in its infancy, and there is still a lot more that can be done to improve it. And if the Big 3 won’t take the lead on this, someone else could very well come in and change the game all together.

Robert J. Murray is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at rob.murray@iprospect.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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