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Microsoft cooks up search ad technologies

Microsoft showed off new technologies this week that it hopes will attract advertisers to its new AdCenter advertising platform and help it compete against Google.

The technologies, detailed in Redmond, Wash., as well as over the Web and the phone, are being developed in the AdCenter Labs, which is a partnership between Microsoft Research and AdCenter. Among the technologies demonstrated was one that would use a Webcam and facial-recognition software to predict the gender and age of someone viewing an ad or Web page. While it definitely has practical applications, it seems a little too Big Brother for me.

Another technology that's expected to be in use by an unnamed retailer this spring allows an advertiser to make interactive videos that would provide information on products in the video when the viewer rolls the mouse over items like clothing. A window pops up detailing the product name, brand and cost and a nearby link routes to the merchant Web site.

Other tools in the works are designed to give advertisers data they can use to help them choose the most popular keywords for creating search advertising campaigns. For example, they can see charts that show how many searches were conducted on particular keywords over specific periods of time.

Other software can indicate what percentage of each gender and age group is more inclined to use a specific keyword or visit a specific Web site. These tools are kind of fun to play with, although some of the answers are pretty obvious. CNET, for example, is "male-oriented" and appeals the most to the 25- to 34-year-old age group, according to the tool. Microsoft is able to discern the gender and age group of people with the use of commonplace "cookie" software that keeps track of users who have registered for Microsoft's e-mail, instant messaging or other Live services.

For Microsoft, whose search engine and advertising were late to the game and lag behind Google and Yahoo, R&D is key. "In terms of narrowing the gap (with Google), our ultimate aim is to show innovation and offer technology that allows advertisers to make the best decisions they can," said James Colborn, product manager for AdCenter Labs. "Demographic targeting alone is still giving us an edge" over Yahoo's new search advertising platform, he said.