In 1998, when MSN launched its first search engine, Web search wasn't quite the big deal it is today. Back then, it was a nice feature to provide, and MSN teamed with LookSmart, and later, Inktomi (now part of Yahoo) for the necessary back-end search technology. In recent years, however, search has become an essential offering.
The company considers the launch of the new MSN Search a major milestone in the ongoing quest to build the industry's leading search service. Even more because it is the first version based entirely on Microsoft technology. Work on the new search engine officially began in March 2003. Close collaboration between the MSN Search team and Microsoft Research played a key role in the development process from the beginning.
The new service is now available in 10 languages and 25 markets, including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Finland, India, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom
The search engine comes with features including the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia content, mathematical functions (for example "2y^3 + 4y -10", "cos 45 degrees") and can understand plain English questions, like "Who won the Super Bowl in 1977?". It also provide answers to conversions ("How many pints are in 18 quarts?"), and of course returns the search results based on an index of 5 billion documents.
The development work was broken down into small pieces. According to Ken Moss, general manager of MSN Search Development and Testing, "Our index has 5 billion documents today. Our first index had exactly 24. Then we built it up to 500. Then 2,000. Then we added more code to get to 100,000. By summer 2003, we were up to 500 million documents, and our Web crawler was better than our competitors' by a good margin."
The first technology preview of the new MSN Search was unveiled in July 2003. Beginning with that technology preview, the search team pursued a number of innovative avenues to solicit suggestions and feedback from search-industry experts, webmasters and consumers.
One of the most successful programs was Search Champs, which included about 30 of the world's most influential technology enthusiasts from the field of search. Invited to Microsoft in October, they were given a special in-depth preview of the beta release and encouraged to provide detailed input on how MSN could improve the service, both in the initial release and beyond.
An MSN Search blog launched in November provided another vital conduit for feedback.
Members of the MSN Search team also participated in a number of online forums, such as Webmaster World. Online feedback, surveys and usability studies also played a key role on its development.