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Web Watch by Leslie Walker
Microsoft Still Playing Search System Catch-Up


_____Recent Columns_____
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By Leslie Walker
The Washington Post
Sunday, July 4, 2004; Page F07

Microsoft Corp. put a preview of its latest Web search technology online Thursday to collect feedback from users. The company is trying to catch up with search leader Google, but early tests suggest this new attempt isn't about to close that gap.

Sample queries conducted on Microsoft's new test site ( yielded results that were less relevant than those provided by Google or Yahoo. Searches for "cicadas" at Google and Yahoo, for example, pulled up Web sites about the recently ubiquitous insects, while Microsoft's first suggestion was the home page of an obscure computer group that shared its name with the red-eyed bugs.

Similarly, a query for "Aruba" pulled up a high-tech firm whose moniker began with the popular tourist destination's name, while Yahoo and Google delivered results about the island itself.

On the plus side, Microsoft also completed a major facelift to its current MSN Search service. The new search home page ( is as easy on the eyes as Google's -- it looks like a direct knockoff of that famously simple page, with little on it except a search box and few text links to related services.

As part of this interface overhaul, Microsoft also cleaned up its search results pages and made them, too, look a bit more like Google's. Previously, MSN, one of the most ad-cluttered search services around, did a poor job of signaling which results had been paid for and which were retrieved by its own relevancy formulas.

The new results show at most three ads atop each page; these ads are now clearly labeled "sponsored sites." MSN also said it would no longer invite Web sites to pay to be guaranteed a listing in its basic search results.

Underneath the new look, MSN's search results continue to be provided by Yahoo, as part of a business deal between the two companies. But because Microsoft doesn't want to keep sharing its search advertising revenue with Yahoo, it plans to switch to its own Web index later this year -- which is why it's asking users to try out that "tech preview" page now.

From Campaign Trail to Memory Lane

Before the airwaves become totally inundated with this year's campaign ads, a new online archive of presidential TV commercials collects those from years past.

Created by the New York-based American Museum of the Moving Image, "The Living Room Candidate" features more than 250 TV commercials from every presidential campaign since 1952, available in a choice of Windows Media or RealPlayer formats. The Web exhibit, opened Thursday, showcases the changing ad styles of American politics.

Movie Marketing Goes Deeper

Movie trailers are taking advantage of the Web's interactivity in creative ways. Consider the trailer that debuted last week for "National Treasure," an upcoming Nicolas Cage flick.

Instead of one short video of film highlights, the Web trailer offers nine slices of information, including interviews with real-life treasure hunters and background about the historical document that Cage's character steals -- the Declaration of Independence -- to get his hands on a hidden map. You can access these topics by clicking on small picture windows that appear while the trailer plays.

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© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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