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Search still on Microsoft's research radar

Microsoft shows several projects at TechFest aimed at giving the company a better chance at competing with Google.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read
Developed by Microsoft Research, Viveri is designed to be a sandbox where Microsoft can try out new search ideas. Ina Fried/CNET Networks

REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft has a lot of ideas on how Web searching could be better. The problem is figuring out which ideas are the good ones.

In an effort to help sort that out, Microsoft has created a second search site, aimed at testing out new ideas. Known as Viveri, the site is being made available this week to all Microsoft employees, and the company hopes to make it publicly available soon.

Viveri uses Microsoft's core search technology, but then acts as a sort of sandbox where researchers can try out new ideas. In its initial incarnation, the site differs in several ways from the main Live Search. Best viewed on a large monitor, Viveri brings up a standard result screen, as well as smaller separate windows to the right with things such as image search results, a tag cloud of related searches as well as results from other, vertical search engines such as WebMD or Amazon.

"Viveri is like a showroom for concept cars," said Microsoft researcher Scott Imig. Not all of the ideas will make it to the final product, but some will, often in a slightly different form. The goal, he said, is to encourage risk--something that is a key goal of Microsoft's overall research effort.

Part of the idea behind Viveri, Imig said, is to recognize that one answer doesn't fit all search queries.

"Rather than being a department store, this is a mall," he said, noting that Microsoft points people to results from specialty search sites and also offers tools aimed at further refining search terms. In addition to the tag cloud option for related searches, Microsoft also highlights terms in search results that could themselves make for new queries.

Imig said Viveri would be made public "in the fairly near future." There is already a teaser site in place.

Microsoft is clearly still searching for answers in this market. The company has been in the business for years. Its market share has bounced up and down, but remained in the single digits and well behind Yahoo, not to mention Google.

In an interview Tuesday, Microsoft Research chief Rick Rashid took issue with the notion that too much of Microsoft's search innovation has not made it into Microsoft's product.

"There has been huge improvement in our search technology," Rashid said, noting that improvements in product search and other areas came right from research. Microsoft's research effort, he said, has helped Microsoft's product teams keep pace with Google even though its business is much smaller.

"They look at Microsoft research as a tremendous advantage," Rashid said.

In addition to Viveri, Microsoft also showed off several other search-related projects at this year's TechFest including Geolife 2.0, which Microsoft bills as "a GPS-data-driven social network that runs on Microsoft Virtual Earth" as well as a new interface for image search and what Microsoft says is a better way of collecting and storing opinion data to help would-be buyers.

Photos: Tinkering around at TechFest 2009

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See the rest of our coverage from TechFest 2009 here.