Jigar Mehta’s WebBlog

June 7, 2008

What will it take for Live Search to Win!!

Filed under: How would it be.. — jigarme @ 3:12 am

Microsoft has been a leader or really a good competitor when it comes to software (and now slowly, I can say in hardware devices as well)! But when it comes to Web Search it is not the leader, neither is it a big competitor comparing the Market Share.

It is always a big challenge to break the monopoly, especially when you are dealing with unbelievably good and growing competitor! Personally, I love working on almost impossible challenges (because when you achieve something which was really impossible, its out-of-the-world feeling! Though, I know it attracts high failure rate and risk as well!) It takes something more than extra-mile to reach that place! According to me (and many authors that I have read!), The key to win is, "Keep users in front of you, for all that you do!".

Well, I had thoughts about "Improving Live Search to Win" in my mind roaming around, from quite some time.. But could not get chance to materialize them into a blog post. This weekend, I decided to finish this pending task.. I want to list few things here that Microsoft (Live Search Team) can do in order to Win in the Search market! I know, Microsoft is FULL of smart & intelligent people, and may be some of THE BEST minds are thinking over this problem ‘day-n-night’ relentlessly.. Here are two cents from my side (being a drop in the sea, who’s not in the position right now to make direct decisions Happy)!

Here are main four themes around which my ideas can be grouped:

  1. Innovation:
    Though, people say Microsoft is no more Innovative! I completely dis-agree with them.. I see innovation every now and then with all the products I use from Microsoft. In-fact they are full of innovations! MS is the company who took PC industry till this point (where you and me having multiple machines helping us work efficiently!) I believe, Innovation would help Live Search beat competition as well! Here are few thoughts that I have collected..
    1. On the main page, show Today’s top three/five viewed search results! (be it from News, Science, Tech, Blog category!). This will add dynamic content on the search engine home page which will pull lot of curious geek!
    2. If Search query has any spelling-typing mistake, it should suggest correct spellings. (which live search does right now to some extent, but I am talking about suggestions not just for dictionary words but also comparing page rank/likeliness of result pages!)
      1. Say for example, I make a typing mistake and type, “jiagr mehta” (instead of “jigar mehta”), Live search can not suggest me right now! (where as Google does!)
    3. Live search should expose verbs to search for particular category from main page.. Something like,
      • “blog:latest live writer CTP” : should return me results about blog posts about live writer CTP..
      • “news:US presidential elections”
      • “tech:woopra release”
    4. Allow users to subscribe for latest search results, which has rank worth of appearing on first page (for those keywords). Notification for such results would be available to users through IM! Just imagine, you have registered for “Earthquake China” keywords and you get an IM as soon as that unfortunate event happens!
    5. If user clicks on any word in particular search result’s description (which is a content snippet from original article!), it should dynamically expand that search result showing 5 more continuous lines for that. This will allow users to read more information about the article on search result page itself (before clicking on correct result! – This will also improve click-through v/s success ratio)
    6. Auto suggest query and result about the most popular item on the sidebar as and when user starts typing in. (this can be challenging in real time, but what is not!)
    7. Provide more context to user query in search result preview: Right now Live Search (Same story with Google as well) provides very poor context of searched words in search result..

      e.g. searching for "Petrol price increase India", it gives result saying

      Petrol, diesel prices may rise after Jan 17-India Business-Business …
      Petrol, diesel prices may rise after Jan 17 5 Jan 2008, 0329 hrs IST , Diwakar & Sanjay Dutta , TNN … timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Petrol_diesel_prices_may_rise/articleshow/2676215.cms

      As you see in above result, actual content from the result page is hardly one line.. If more context is provided to user, he will be able to more efficiently select correct page by reading that information! (What I think is, its not a MUST to have first result the best one, if user is able to find his intended result on the first page without miss each time, every-time!, that should be absolutely fine! – Though, first result as best one is always good!)

    8. Use empty space on the results page to show more information that user might be interested in!

      Apart from sponsored results, there can be lots of things that can be shown on results page which can help user.. (I know, this will increase the wait time for user, but with the help of AJAX today, all these ‘extra’ items can be triggered to start loading after showing basic 10 results to user!)

      e.g.

      1. Allow user to group results from particular domain!
      2. Allow user to sort results from freshness of result page! (many times, I am looking for latest information and have to go through old articles!)
      3. If result is ‘marked as news article’, publish date of article! (This will help user decide to ignore too old articles! or choose the latest ones..)
      4. Provide user a small section of ‘Recommended Picks’ (more on this later in personalized theme) which will help user stay up-to-date with latest happenings he is most interested with.
    9. Implement ‘Smart Scrolling’ on search results page such that, there would be NO next and previous page links! As user starts scrolling the page, live search keeps on appending results! I think this would also help in improving overall search experience.
    10. Natural language interpretation! This is going to be a need going forward! If I write "What was the stock that gained highest today in NASDAQ" or "What is latest news about NASA’s Mars mission" Live search should be able to point me right to the information! (I see companies like PowerSet taking a giant leap in this direction, and that is probably a nice to have feature today! [and probably must-have in near future!])
    11. Donation to charity institutions on usage of Live search was on my mind but its already officially announced as, ‘Search and Give’.. A very good Idea.. (Though, it needs to get completely integrated with Live Search! I don’t understand why Different Search Provider in IE for Search and Give!!)
    12. Live Search already have “Smart Answers” Which is actually a great way to give user something ‘
      extra’.. I would like to suggest following additions or modifications to it..

      1. If I search for any Movie Name or TV Show/series,
        • It should show me some vital facts about the movie (by partnering with IMdb)
        • Allow me to directly land on the page on NetFlix where I can add that movie to my Queue
        • Gives me inline option to buy for that movie (with some discount offered by Cashback) or add it to WishList.
      2. If I search for some Person Name,
        • It should show me basic information about that person (like e-mail, web-site URL, Profession, City etc.) [Probably by looking at public information from social networks like Facebook/Orkut/MySpace/FriendFeed or Professional networks like LinkedIn] and provide link to their public profile
      3. If I search for Song track,
        • It should provide me option to play that track inline (on search result page) [by partnering with Napster]
        • An option to buy that track OR entire album from Napster/iTunes/Amazon!
      4. If I search for City Name,
        • Give me Whether Information for that City
        • List current time in that City
        • One top breaking news that happened last in that City!
        • Link to map for that city (linking to Virtual Earth page!)
      5. If I search for any Software Product name, [MS can build advertisement model for having custom messages for this category!]
        • It should list Product’s full name with latest version number linking to author’s web page.
        • Option to download/buy that product directly from Smart Answer!
        • Two flagship products from the same company hyper-linked to their Info page.
      6. If I search for ISBN,
        • Book’s cover page snapshot with more information about that book (like Author, No. of pages, Selling status (bestseller), Awards etc.
        • Option to buy that book from Amazon
      7. If I search for any Product’s Model Number
        • More information about that product (including small snapshot)
        • Option to buy it (with appx price & cashback!)
      8. If I search for Email address (I am not sure about privacy concerns around this!)
        • It should give at least Full name of this person! [Can be derived from search index and social network’s public profile pages]
      9. If I search for some Company Name
        • If that company is listed in any stock exchange, today’s latest stock quote chart should be shown.
        • Company’s Web-site URL should be listed
        • Very basic information about that company (may be their vision or mission statement!)
      10. If I search for any API (Application Programming Interface),
        • It should list signature of that function and link to web-page with more information about that API. (e.g. for Win32/.NET APIs link it to MSDN)
        • It should provide me link to sample snippet code which exhibits usage of that API (be it Windows API or Third party libraries API like STL).
      11. If query matches with any of Guinness World Record (e.g. “most t-shirt worn”),
        • Provide more information about that Record and hyperlink to more information about that world record.
      12. If I search for DHL tracking number (or formatted tracking number for any courier company, for that matter)
        • It should show me current status of shipping (by partnering with respective courier companies)
      13. If I search for formatted flight number,
        • It should list schedule for that flight for current day (giving user interactive options to see the schedule for next few days – AJAX way..)
      14. If search query contains two Cities,
        • It should list best & cheapest flight (probably with some cashback) between those two cities hyper-linking directly to partner airline site. (May be MS can use FareCast here!)
      15. If query contains some file extension (like “.pst”),
        • Give more information about that file extension and software program to open those files. (I think Microsoft already maintains this database for Windows Vista, that can be used)
      16. If query is an Idiom or Phrase,
        • It should provide meaning of that phrase (by partnering with encarta or dictionary.com)
      17. If query term contains only a single word,
        • Show meaning of that word (synonyms, antonyms) and a sentence using that word!
      18. If query contains Magazine name,
        • Show link to more information about latest edition of that magazine (if its readable online, show few top stories with links)
      19. If query contains Phone number [again not sure about privacy concerns around this, but I guess there are premium/free services out on Internet which provides this service! – If that is not feasible, it can also be derived simply by crawling the web!]
        • List information about owner of that number!
      20. If query contains URL to some website,
        • Show WhoIs information about that website!
      21. If query is simply IPv4/IPv6 address,
        • Show Basic information about that IP address (one I use normally is here)
      22. If query is just some DLL name,
        • Give information about that DLL
        • Link to download that DLL (or package that contains that DLL)
  2. Reliability:
    1. Providing THE BEST results every-time is very crucial for Live Search while being in competitor phase, because a single poor result will drive user back to his ‘old daddy’.. – And I think MS is working towards this very very hard.. I know Live search index has improved exponentially in last few months.. And they are onto it!
    2. Need to win TRUST from users! A user should have confidence (which p
      eople hardly have today) with live search. Of course, this does not happen over-night.
  3. Efficiency:
    1. As a user of Live Search, I want FAST search results (I know MS acquired FAST, but I am talking about Speed here!).. If Live Search can provide search results blazingly fast (at least as fast as the competitor), users will think about using it! Today, Live search is NOT-SO-FAST as compared to other options available!
  4. Personalized User Experience:
    1. Add social element to Search!
      Today, I see SOCIAL on the web with big buzz, I see people becoming more and more social than ever! Microsoft has largest online community (with MSN msgr), MS should leverage this and help users socialize search experience as well! There are few ideas floating around my head!
      1. Give a very quick way for a user to “Star” a particular search result. Give user functionality to share his ‘starred’ results through RSS feed! Give it a cool name, "Live Search Feed" Winking
      2. Design a portal where user can do more with his ‘starred’ search results like,
        1. Search them with Full Text Search
        2. Give a quick way to email a particular search result or group of results to a contact!
        3. Give ability to tag those results.. (suggested tags would be nice feature! Even this manual tagging can be used for many other purposes like keywords verification!)
        4. Ability to group/sort through days/month/domain-name/result-category(whether news/tech/science/blog)
        5. If a particular search result is also tagged by anybody in his/her contact, give them ability to discuss over that result by providing ability to add threaded comments to it!
          • Concept similar to that of FriendFeed.. Where each search result would become a discussion topic! This would prove great for people doing research/study from search results!
        6. Ability to automatically blog daily ‘starred’ search results on user’s live spaces! (Let them share with their community what they searched for and liked!)
        7. Ability to Digg/Twitter/Delicious/FriendFeed/Facebook about the search result with just one click! (that is possible today due to open APIs)
        8. Annotate particular search result with own research text and ability to share it with friends/family. (May be comment feature will make this one duplicate!)
        9. Ability to IM a particular search result to self or a friend (over MSN network).
    2. Give users their own customized search engine!
      We all are living in ‘Information Exploded’ world today! There is a lot happening and available to us, many times, we waste time digging for something which is important to us! (this becomes lot bigger question for Geek!) If Live search can solve this problem, it would definitely win love of many people!
      1. System should be able to detect user’s style/need by looking at search patterns! If one can detect what a particular user is generally looking for, A system can be built which gets intelligent and more perfect over time such that,
        • If I am a developer of C#, I should not have to write "C#" keyword every-time I search for ‘create thread sample’! (It should automatically show me C# sample on top of results!)
        • If my queries and click through results are around latest developments in telecom world, Live Search should be able to suggest me "Recommended reading" anytime some breaking news happens in that industry!
      2. My personalized search engine should be able to allow me increase/decrease rank for pages from particular domain! (even personalized blacklist feature would be nice!)
      3. There should be a section in search result that shows search results for my email conversations! (If I am logged on to my Live account while using Live Search!)
        • Or may be, give special search verb that searches emails instead of web (something like search query “email:I will call you on sunday”)
      4. As described in 4.1 <Social touch to live search>, there should be a section on result page that searches my ‘Starred’ search result items!

That’s almost everything that I can re-collect right now.. It may be possible that some of the ideas are already implemented by live search (which I am not aware of).. But I tried my best to confirm they are not! I may be missing many other thoughts as well, but I will use Comments section (as I generally do!) for adding those..

If you want to add any, feel free to add them here in Comments section!

This is probably the largest post I have ever written, but I think I had to start some day!! Winking

Stay tuned.. Wave

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