What's next on Microsoft's search agenda?

What's next on Microsoft's search agenda?

Summary: It's been three months since Satya Nadella took over as Corporate Vice President in charge of Microsoft's Search & Advertising Platform Group. Nadella shared what's coming next from Microsoft, starting with the fall Live Search update.

TOPICS: Google, Microsoft

It's been three months since Satya Nadella took over as Corporate Vice President in charge of Microsoft's Search & Advertising Platform Group. What's he been up to?

Microsoft’s Search & Ad Platform Chief Satya Nadella"I've been focusing on learning," said Nadella, with whom I had chance to chat on July 27 at his office on the Redmond campus. "I had been with MBS (Microsoft Business Solutions) for a while and had forgotten what it means to change groups here. But I've been focused on building the team with a focus on collaboration."

Nadella, who was named as the head of Microsoft's combined Search and Ad Platform Group in March 2007, also is shepherding his team through a planned fall Search update, as well as an upcoming Spring search refresh. Nadella said his goal is to do a major search refresh twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, for the foreseeable future. In between these updates, Microsoft will continue to roll out incremental search improvements, such as the new facial-detection search functionality it recently added to its Live Image Search.

Nadella said the areas where Microsoft can innovate in search fall into three primary buckets:

1. Core: Microsoft will improve search relevance -- not just by tweaking the search algorithm, but also by tuning the data platform and mining, he said. "We believe we can compete with anyone on relevance," Nadella said.

2. User Experience: Microsoft has 55 million searchers. (Google has twice that many, according to Nadella.) The question is "how to get searchers to search more with us," Nadella said. Promotions like the give-aways by the Live Search Club are hardly the only strategy Microsoft has up its sleeve here.

Watch for Microsoft to promote search more on MSN.com via categories like "Popular Searches," "A List" searches, etc. "We are looking to use MSN as both a portal and convenience search vehicle," Nadella said. Also expect Microsoft to find ways to make Search more immersive (like it is today on Virtual Earth, where user sessions run, on average, 10 minutes; and strike more search syndication deals in verticals like legal, travel, etc.

3. Integration: Microsoft also is working to integrate its search results, search application-programming interfaces (APIs) and search engine into existing Microsoft properties. This means everything from integrating Local Search with Microsoft Outlook, to making Live Search the engine that powers Office Live, Nadella said. "We have a set of APIs today that you can take, and (you can) use our search results with any other property or application," he said.

I asked Nadella whether he was worried about Google or other search competitors suing Microsoft if the company integrates more of its search technology into existing products. After all, Google was threatening to do just that, regarding Microsoft's decision to integrate desktop search into Vista. Sadella's response: "There is nothing stopping Google from integrating search" with other existing applications and properties. " They are not as much about opening up their APIs as we are," Nadella claimed. Microsoft and Google are companies with different business models and strategies, he said.

Nadella, like many other top Microsoft execs, also is laser-focused these days on the advertising market and growing Microsoft's footprint there.

"We've really good out strategy and pieces all in place now," Nadella said, the day after Microsoft announced it had bought AdECN, a display advertising broker.

And because advertising is based around a "platform" -- in this case, Microsoft's adCenter online-advertising platform -- Nadella, with his own platform heritage, has a grasp on how to build atop and around it, he said.

"The ad platform is like a big, hulking database with things like millions of real-time auctions," Nadella said. And more Microsoft software and services, like the next version of Microsoft Works, are going ad-funded, he added.

Do you think Microsoft is finally on the right track with its search and advertising businesses and strategies? Or do you see any obvious holes in the Softies' search approach?

Topics: Google, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Look at Hakia

    Hakia has done some things very right. It has put fun back into search.
  • Item 3

    Integration into and dependence on other MS technologies (old fashioned embrace and extend) is presumably the primary reason why MS is in the search business at all. The other two items are only important to the extent that they further item 3.
    John L. Ries
  • VCSY patents

    With a settlement with VCSY they will surpass all current search engines, if licensing agreements are also signed.
  • YES! Link to other MS apps

    What a great idea! Put a link into Word, Outlook, etc. That will make already ponderous and vastly over complicated apps even more ponderous.

    When Outlook does not load right more than once out of every attempts, link it to another MS app to stop it/slow it.

    Great thinking!

    How about REthinking all of MS and starting fresh instead of trying to glom onto sinking apps and trying to refloat them. Ask yourself if you really need MS to show you a map when you type an address into a letter or an email.

    The problem with anything MS does is that it has all the deadweight of its legacy systems that have to "fit" wih the "new" stuff (which is not really new but only a clever copy of the work of others).

    There can be no innovative thinking at MS because it is bolted to the past.

    Doubt it? Look at the MSFT price. All the relentless talk about "innovation" and shareholder have yet to see the stock price reflect it.
    Jeremy W
  • Microsoft is still searching for their own link to Redmond

    It's lost somewhere in India. At least
    that's where I found it the last few times I

    Unless they've moved it to China now? That's
    where they're devoting their attention now.

    Microsoft in China: Who Conquered Whom?
    TAKEAWAY: Microsoft had to get rid of its
    American/European business model in order to
    find success in China. The tech giant
    started offering rock-bottom prices for its
    applications, abandoned its staunch stance
    on intellectual property rights, and started
    partnering with the government instead of
    fighting it. But the turning point that
    boosted Microsoft's image in China was when
    Microsoft opened a research center in
    Beijing, which lured back computer

    Bill Gates was preparing for this way back
    in 1998:

    "About 3 million computers get sold every
    year in China, but people don't pay for the
    software. Someday they will, though. As long
    as they are going to steal it, we want them
    to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted,
    and then we'll somehow figure out how to
    collect sometime in the next decade."
    Speech at the University of Washington, as
    reported in Gates, Buffett a bit bearish"
    CNET News (2 July 1998)
    Ole Man
  • VCSY/Microsoft

    VCSY had a search engine called Focal Point. The Emily language demonstrated high level language capabilities by being able to build "a" search engine with less than 50 lines of code.

    The thing that struck me in Moran's commentary is the inferences that IBM intends to bring a new "community" ability to market and development by a collaborative effort with the users as opposed to the "define user requirements and build 'solution'" traditional hookup between non-technical subject matter experts and non-subject matter technical developers.

    It's the destination hinted at in the SiteFlash concept to have an ecology within which applications are requested, supplied, managed and governed.

    Now, while a community software approach might have been obvious in the minds of web "experts" all these years, the actual implementation is by necessity sophisticated and enmeshed rather than fragmented and non-interoperable.

    Being able to turn marketing into a community development enterprise in conjunction with the ecology for software development is what somethign like SiteFlash will provide.

    Traditional methods among many various dynamic mobile users will simply not work.

    So Omni sounds like IBM's answer to Microsoft and Google ad products.
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