Microsoft took the covers off the fall release of its Live Search engine on September 26 at its invitation-only Searchification event for press and analysts.
I wasn't there, but like many, I was briefed and embargoed about what's new in the fall update. (The embargoes ended at midnight EST.) I've posted a few screen shots of some of the new Live Search enhancements users can expect to be rolled out as part of the fall release between now and mid-October.
1. Microsoft's search index is a lot bigger now. Microsoft officials said the Live Search index has grown four-fold since the first release. (Unfortunately, that number is somewhat meaningless, given that Microsoft won't say how big the original index was.) I have heard from one of my contacts that Live Search is now indexing 20 billion documents. (Update: It looks like Microsoft decided to start spreading the 20 billion figure around.) ButI heard from another source that it's 30 billion. In either case, it's a lot more comparable to Google's index, in terms of coverage and ranking of documents in the index.
2. Live Search's relevancy is noticeably improved. "The important part of this is what shows on page 1 (of search results), and here Microsoft have made the advances in relevance they have been talking about for the past few years," said Chris Overd, one of the principals with LiveSide.Net. "This makes today's beta release of Live Search a much stronger competitor to Yahoo and Google."
3. Microsoft is focusing on improving search in four verticals with this release. These are: shopping, entertainment, health and local/maps. Microsoft estimates 10 percent of consumer search queries are entertainment-related and between three and five percent are health-related. There was a reason (actually a few of them) that Microsoft bought the Medstory health-search engine. Microsoft officials say they will add more verticals to their focus with each subsequent Live Search release.
4. Speaking of subsequent releases, Microsoft is sticking to its plans to do a major spring and a fall release every year of Live Search, with incremental updates coming in between. The spring release, according to Live Search General Manager Derrick Connell, will bring enhancements around "community." (He wouldn't elaborate.) This doesn't sound like tagging/social bookmarking kinds of stuff, as Connell told me that Microsoft decided those features appealed to too small a percentage of the potential user base. Maybe we'll see more peer reviews/recommendations across areas beyond shopping...? Just a guess.... And what about rumors I had heard regarding Live Search allowing users to search their Outlook e-mail? "There's a tie-in there," Connell said, and Microsoft will have more to say about it later.
5. Microsoft is still kicking around the idea of possibly rebranding Live Search. "Live it!" just doesn't have the ring of "Google It!" Connell told me Microsoft "will continue to look at branding." No hints on what Microsoft ultimately might use as the new name, however.
What do you think of what Microsoft's done with search this go-around? Do you think its enhancements will give it any kind of traction against Google and Yahoo?