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September 12, 2006

Can Live Search compete?

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This morning’s story-you-couldn’t-escape-if-you-tried has been the news that Microsoft unleashed Live.com from beta (why are its results still pulled from beta.search.live then?), which will officially replace Microsoft’s MSN Search by this time Thursday. The new Live.com features a clean, stripped down interface and showcases a faster, more relevant search from Microsoft.

With the new Live.com, users can hunt for news, video, blogs, images and perform product, local and academic searches all from one portal. The image search is especially neat. Users get a slider to control image size, a never ending scroll (no pages to sift through), a Related People option (!), and a scratchpad that lets users save images as collections. I’m not sure I’d ever have a reason to use the scratchpad, but it interests me just the same. (Hmm, maybe to save images like this? Or this. So young! )

Another thing I like is that, though Live.com took a page from Google with its understated homepage design, they gave its search functionality an Ask.com touch. The new Live.com search includes a Related Search feature that uses previous queries to help searchers find what they’re looking for in the fewest amount of clicks. It’s one of my favorite Ask features so it’s good to see it adopted here.

What I don’t like: The feeds index remains very limited, the news search doesn’t cluster topics, continued blogspot.com spam in the index, and a local vertical that still opens Windows Live Local as a separate application. What’s the point of that?

Overall, I think a lot of searchers will be very happy with the new Live.com. And I hate to say it, but I’m really rooting for Microsoft here. I know, I know, I could be kidnapped and tortured for saying such things, but it’s true. It really looks like they’re turning things around. They’ve won me over.

Of course, the million dollar question is whether or not it will be enough to compete with Google and Yahoo! for market share. I don’t think it’s enough to topple them, but I do think (err, hope) it’s enough to allow them to compete.
I say that because in the race for market share, Live.com faces two major hurdles for adoption.

  1. It’s Microsoft.
  2. It’s not Google.

Google is search. In order for Microsoft to compete, Live.com has to be undeniably different or head and shoulders above what is already out there. As far as Microsoft has come, it’s neither.

Or maybe Microsoft doesn’t need to be better at all.

Greg Linden makes an interesting argument that Microsoft’s position as the default home page and search, on the default browser, on the default operating system means they may only need to be “good enough” to gain market share.

“It is a damning indictment of MSN that such a remarkable number of people go through the effort of switching those defaults to Google or Yahoo when they get a new computer.

As people buy new computers, if Live.com can get to a level where it is perceived as “good enough”, more people may lazily stick with the Microsoft default. Because of their control of the desktop, good enough may be good enough for Microsoft.”

I’m comfortable going along with that, and if he’s right, Microsoft stands a good chance at pulling itself up the ladder. However, the users it will attract that way (the moms of the bunch) aren’t the kind of users that will catapult it into Google contention. But you have to start somewhere. Good for Microsoft.





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