TECH: Search, Microsoft gets serious

Having said that search is the most important part of Health2.0, I thought I’d better find out something about it. As it happens Microsoft, the #3 search company by user volume, is announcing a major revision to its Live Search tool today (Thursday) and I sat in on the press briefing Weds morning. It’s clear that despite their unaccustomed non-market leading position, Microsoft is very, very serious about search, and that translates into lots of change to their engine.

Essentially they’ve added considerable indexing to extend the reach of searches, and they’ve added considerable changes in presentation. For example misspellings are automatically corrected, with the “correct” results displayed, (unlike the “did you mean” result from Google), several alternative searches are introduced—for instance a search of “San Jose” will give on a right hand bar the choice of “San Jose, CA, USA” or “San Jose, Costa Rica”. In addition they’re using neural net ranking to increase the understanding of what queries mean so “the office” gets you to the TV show not to the MS Office home page.

Verticals—Maps. shopping, entertainment, and health are the 4 biggest vertical responsible for 40% of all searches.

I wont say much about non-health care search, but there’s lots of
investment in map search and display—look for more deep display and
building logging, and more mobile and voice based map search. And more
integration of businesses et al into map search. They’re also fixed
“driving directions” and are getting away from the awful “starting
address” problem. You now can get directions from the south, the north,
via certain freeway, etc, and it wont tell you the five roads you need
to take to leave your house. Plus their 3d mapping is really
cool—allows interactive 3D and 2D tours to really low level of details.
You can take a tour and make a video out of it.

Did you know that 50% of entertainment searches are directly about
celebrities! There’s a new ranking of searches by celeb over the last
12 hours. Selma Hayek is top because she just had a baby! And they have
6 degrees of separation between celebs too. Brad Pitt’s first
connection is Angelina, but his 4th is Jennifer Like Jerry Yang said,
we are perfecting a way to waste time more efficiently! They’ve also
done a really cool way of previewing videos online, which uses search
to pick out the most important few seconds of the video (and plays it
within the search engine).

The third area is shopping—their online product review is really
nifty and has  lots more innovation about product information than a
typical product search, and it amalgamates lots of reviews into the
search results.

Finally, Health.

Most popular health search terms. 3) Diabetes, 2) Pregnancy…and #1??
Sex!  Perhaps this is the first search demo when they actually demo a
search on sex!

The new health vertical search LiveSearch is using Medstory behind
the scenes to refine the searches, but has changed its user
interface—the little bars on the top (although that is being used on
MSN and of course on Medstory’s site), and has changed it to a little
box next to the category of "personal health, condition, drugs", etc.
The box is a darker green the more relevant the category is–that’s
what extensive user testing gets you

When you do a search on the health page on sex, you get a home page
that looks at sexual health. Similar on pregnancy, and has sections on
the left looking direct into relevant articles from pubMed, a central
"site search" and a right rail which has some tools in it.

When I talked with Grad Conn (MSFT HC product marketing) & Alain
Rappaport (Medstory founder), they told me a little about what else
they’re going to introduce to search over time. Essentially they’re
going to allow others to play on the "right rail" (as in right hand
side) and will be adding partnerships to that. 

Overall, Microsoft has now caught up in its search technology with a
certain other company a few hundred yards from the Mountain View campus
I was at yesterday. And in health care and several other verticals,
they’re now (because of acquisition) clearly ahead.

This is great news–because Google and Yahoo (and the smaller
vertical players) will have to respond, and the one thing that we know
is true (and they showed their own data yesterday) is that 50% of
searches don’t get to the right answer. And the winners in the search
arms race will be the users.

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