Microsoft Begins Internal Test of Next-Gen Search Engine

Despite ongoing usage share losses in the Internet search market, Microsoft continues to plug away, and this week the software giant began an internal test of a next-generation search engine code-named "Kumo." It's not available to the public yet, and Microsoft is rumored to be considering consolidating its MSN Search and Live Search services under the Kumo brand going forward.

"We are launching a new test program called for employees to try and provide feedback," Microsoft senior vice president Satya Nadella wrote in a message to employees on Monday. "Kumo is the codename we have chosen for the internal test."

Microsoft's rationale for a new kind of search engine boils down to relevancy. Nadella says that 40 percent of search engine queries today go unanswered, while half of all queries are basically re-tries of previous searches. Both of these statistics suggest that there is still a lot of work to be done with Internet search.

"Customers often don't find what they need from search today," Nadella continues. "We believe we can provide a better and more useful search experience that helps you not just search but accomplish tasks ... You'll see results organized in a way that saves you more time. An explorer pane on the left side of results pages will give you access to tools that help you with your tasks. Other features like single session history and hover preview help accomplish more in search sessions."

Based on screenshots I've seen, Kumo is more of an evolution of today's Live Search service than a revolution. There is a familiar search box, of course, and links for filtering searches for images, videos, news, and other topics. In one screenshot, a search for chanteuse Taylor Swift divides the search results into sections for web, songs, lyrics, biography, music, and albums. Today's site, by comparison, like Google, just dumps a list of links sorted by relevancy.

The big question for Microsoft is whether any of this will make a difference. The company has tried various tactics over the past few years to reenergize its Live Search efforts, and it has thrown billions of dollars in R&D at the service. (It also attempted to purchase struggling number two player Yahoo! last year.) Worldwide, Microsoft's search engine accounts for a piddling 1.7 percent of searches, compared to 2.5 percent in April 2008. And in the US, Live Search manages just an 8.5 percent share, down from 9.4 percent in April 2008. These aren't just bad numbers, they're dropping, and steadily.

My guess is that Kumo won't change anything. In fact, rebranding this service yet again will likely just scare off its few remaining users.

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