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Wednesday, November 10, 2004
MSN Search Opens Its Doors This Thursday
The day we have been waiting for is almost upon us, as Microsoft has announced that it will unveil the new MSN Search, albeit a preview version, this Thursday. Although Yahoo, Jeeves, and others have been trying their hardest to catch Google, I believe that the new MSN Search represents the first real, instant threat to actually overtake Google. The Thursday unveiling is the opening salvo in this search war, and Microsoft intends to win. Microsoft will reportedly be dropping more than $100 million to promote the engine for the holiday season.

The details:

The Wall Street Journal (subscription free this week only) reports that the engine will go live before the end of the year, confirming all the recent rumors. Alongside the search engine, we may also see Microsoft's desktop search product, codenamed ME2, also expected by the end of the year. Currently, MSN licenses Yahoo results, and with the new MSN Search, that contract is expected not to be renewed when it expires next year.

Cnet's Stefanie Olsen is reporting that what we will see Thursday is simply a new interface, not the new index, and that the new index will be integrated next month.
The revamped MSN Search remains a front end for technology provided by Yahoo, offering mainly a face-lift aimed to make it look more like Google. The relatively minor changes signal that--after a year in development and a $100 million investment--Microsoft's ballyhooed search push still has a long way to go.
She also notes that the new page will have fewer ads, offers a minmalist version for Google fans, removes paid inclusion links, and notes rumors that Microsoft will buy AskJeeves or another search engine in order to leap forward with its technology.

The New York Times reports that news of the big reveal leaked yesterday when MS began calling reporters to let them test out the engine (hey, what about this reporter!). John Battelle confirms that in his blog, saying, "I was wondering why the MSFT folks were so eager to get me in front of a PC this week (I will see a preview Weds and report back asap)". John Markoff says in the article:

Microsoft will stress the size and completeness of its service, according to several people with knowledge of the announcement.

Currently Google, the largest search engine, indexes about 4 billion Web pages, 880 million images and 845 million Usenet messages. The service is used by almost 82 million people each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Since we can trust that Markoff knows more than he's saying, the read between the lines basically is "Microsoft has indexed more than those numbers". Google has prepared for that possibility, with GoogleBot indexing more than ever before. Since neither MS or Google have released their new numbers yet, when MSN Search goes public, expect a claim of "the largest search index ever", followed immediately by a similar Google announcement. Webstractions reports that Google's index now stands at 9.85 billion pages, citing research by Eric Baillargeon, a 33% increase. Simply search for the word "the" in Google, and you will see 9,580,000,000 results reported, up from the 6,040,000,000 number that has been reported for months.



There have been recent rumors Google is about to launch a newer version of its index and search algorithm, much like last year's Florida update. Of course, last year that move caused many complaints, and Google may not be able to afford any bad buzz, which could send customers scrambling to MSN.

John Tinker, an analyst who covers Google for ThinkEquity Partners, does not believe MSN Search will have an immediate impact, saying, "I think Microsoft is a couple of years from doing anything serious, but it's a reminder that the big bad evil beast is out there". Of course, the beta preview version of the index has tested extremely well, and a partial look at the new interface was leaked to weeks ago, which also impressed many, so he could be wrong.

Search Engine Roundtable notes the major forum chatter about the release:

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch Blog has a great timeline of the evolution of MSN Search, from Yukon to Inktomi to AltaVista to MSNBot. He also wonders where exactly Microsoft plans to put the site when the preview launches. Will it become the default engine, or remain wn the Search Beta area, where far fewer people will notice it?

The 4 billion pages that Markoff reported Google as having probably came from the Main search page where it lists the total number of pages in the Index. This figure is usually out of date -- Google and Yahoo both.

They will often play games (according to Eric) of one-upmanship. Yahoo will revise their figure, then Google.

Although I am wondering how reliable the Yahoo figures really are. Not that I say they are "fudging" them a bit, but they do seem to be a little too high.
That 9.5 billion number from this morining? Its already out of date! Google now reports 11 billion pages, a new world record:
You may not remember this -- but the Golden Arches sign used to keep tally on how many burgers they served in terms of hundreds of thousands, then millions. Once they hit two or three billion served -- it was not that exciting anymore. =)
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