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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Microsoft has today launched their BETA version of MSN Search and the link takes you to the UK version. The US version is at but when I tried the UK version it was temporarily unavailable!

They have also launched a weblog as well, although there's only one entry, but it does have comments enabled.

As you'll know if you read my weblog regularly, I'm one of the 'MSN Search Champs' so I've been playing around with the search engine for a while already. The emphasis is on providing more useful answers more quickly. The index has over 5 billion pages indexed. It has a location based search function 'Search near me' which is based on (oddly enough) where you happen to be located. There's an option in settings that allows you to state specifically where you are, and the engine will pull results that are appropriate to that location. Image and News search is also integrated in this.

There's a 'Settings' option which is very straightforward; Display, Showing Results, Safe search, Search language, and an option for stating where you are located, although this isn't in the local versions (at least it's not in the UK version!), it is in the US/global version.

There is also a 'Search Builder' which allows you to define your search more closely, with all the usual things that you would expect - limit by site/domain, links: for particular sites, Country or Regional search (though you cannot as yet do any searches for what I would call regions, such as 'Europe'), Language options (quite limited at the moment), and a results ranking slide bar. This slide bar has 3 ways of narrowing in on your results: an Exact/Approximate match, Very popular/Less popular and Updated Recently/Static page option. I'm personally not quite so sure as to the value of this, since I can't imagine many times when I'm going to want to search in roughly the right area for unpopular pages that haven't been updated in a long while, but I can see where Microsoft is coming with this. The Search Builder replaces the concept of an Advanced Search Interface (you won't find any option for advanced search at all), which may encourage more people to do advanced searching without realising it.

For those of us who like more advanced functionality it's also possible to do nested Boolean searches as well. There's a ten word limit on searching (same as Google) which is a bit of a shame, but perhaps that'll improve in time. The interface is clean and crisp and simple to use.

The results page is ok, but there are a lot of adverts, sponsored links at the top, adverts down the side and at the bottom, which I think is a little overkill, but I guess people will just learn to ignore them (the way you do). I'd have liked to have seen numbering of results and rather more by the way of providing a good summary of the page, but it's still in Beta mode, so perhaps that will change in time.

Microsoft is also going to open up APIs, thus allowing 3rd party developers to produce utilities and functionality that uses the engine, in the same way that Google has done very successfully in the past.

All told, it's looking good, and I'm pleased with what I'm seeing. There is still a long way to go with the product, but it's certainly an engine that I'll be using a lot myself in the coming months.
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