Last week I was privileged enough to be invited to Microsoft’s “Live Search Symposium” in a posh private venue in Knightsbridge. There were only a hundred or so guests, but when the guests include Danny Sullivan, Dave Naylor and the tech boffins at the British Library you know you are in the right sort of place.
(By the way – how short can you make YOUR domain name? The British Library is www.bl.uk… Do you think their DNS could drop the www? that would be very cool. Anyway… I digress.)
The symposium was exceedingly slick. MUCH better than I am used to frankly, from Microsoft. They really put text based serps into perspective as being… frankly the very start of search. I know we have been banding about universal or blended search for over a year now, but in the UK at least, we really haven’t made the leap. Microsoft seem pretty joined up in their thinking about how that leap will change their fortunes in serach. Microsoft are not thinking “serps”. They are thinking vertical search and multiple media. They may still be weaker than Google in the organic results, but what they have been building an the infrastructure powerful enough to break Google’s market up entirely by encouraging different people to build different ways to search, based on different audiences. Danny reported on one such example of the Indiana Jones Search Engine straight out of the meeting and if you haven’t spent 30 minutes engaging with http://www.msdewey.com/ you really should! but Microsoft have gone way further and it looks like their new “Silverlight” product (a bit like flash on steroids). I am no developer, but seeing how the dots connect almost makes me wish I was.
Microsoft are not just paying lip service to these joined up dots either, They have created dozens of viral videos which must have cost a fortune! (sorry… the video below is probably still loading… bear with Microsoft…)
There are several of these designed primarily (it would appear) for the UK market.
Probably the most impressive thiong I saw to show integrated search could already be was http://specials.uk.msn.com/mayoral-election which was pulling news, image and data feeds in real time as the London elections were going on. Once built, the system was functioning and updating seemlessly straight through the election period and is still current now. You need to download Silverlight to see it, mind, but wow – that’s going to challenge the very core of the news providers. Apparently anyone with programming skills and some time on their hands could have built it, using Microsoft’s freely available APIs. It didn’t have to be MSN, but obviously they wanted to see how far they could take the technology.
When you have search that is so rich in any given verticle or topic, built by millions of enthusiasts in thousands of genres and styles… what does Google become by comparison? Just a directory of search engines – because the “most authoritative” source and “richest experience” on (say) bungee jumping will be a site that drags in every valuable news search, image search, map locations, addresses, forums and blogs on the subject in the most entertaining way… and that way will be based on Microsoft’s silverlight technology and Microsoft’s APIs. Not Google’s.
The better Google gets at retutning the “best site” at the head of search, the more Microsoft technology driven sites will be at the far end. That leaves Google with the long tail and no place to go.
I’m not saying Microsoft’s strategy will work. But it’s definitely a strategy that wasn’t thought up and developed to this level of sophistication on the back of a napkin. It might just work.