MSN have announced a number of updates to their Live Search platform, many of which should yield a significant improvement in the quality of results by the search provider. Aside from graphical updates which improve the look and feel of MSN (there are before and after shots below), the really interesting changes are ‘under the bonnet’. These updates include:
- Coverage – MSN claim their index has increased to over 20 billion documents, four times the number previously indexed. They also suggest that this indexing will carry greater freshness, crawl depth and filtering. The number of queries returning less than 10 results has apparently been halved.
- Query intent – Improvements to the use of Stemming and Stop Word technology – an area Google has specifically refined in the past. A search for “The Office” used to turn up Microsoft Office software results. Now “The Office” TV show and videos appear. Term Equivalence and Punctuation Analysis are also reportedly improved.
- Query refinement – Automatic spell correction and search query suggestions. It’s been seen before on other search engines (go on, try to guess where…) but it can’t be a bad thing that MSN are catching up.
- RankNet – Neural Network Ranking. A system loosely based on neural networks in the human brain – supposedly improves relevance to levels above those of competitors. We’re going to have to wait and see how true this is, once the private beta goes public.
- Rich answers – very similar to those little searches in Google, which display the answer to a question above the search results; cue demonstration: number of horns on a unicorn and time in London. MSN have put their own slant on the concept, and have revealed the ‘Rich Answers Platform’ integrating answers, real time data, integrated news and embedded video, with mouse-over playback, wherever it is deemed relevant. There is also a “related searches” display, with relevant keyword and phrase searches to use, shown after the initial search is performed.
- Webmaster tools – Finally, MSN has released vague details of their webmaster tools platform. A whole team is being assembled to handle support and enquires relating to this product, so they’re taking it seriously. Site analysis, ranking, importance analysis will feature. That’s about all we know for now, but the private beta launches imminently. There’s a larger private beta on the 22nd October, then finally the public beta on the 15th November to be launched at the Search Marketing Expo in London.
These screenshots show a comparison of the old and new MSN Live environments.
Detail from ‘after’