Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Microsoft to launch experimental search site

In the next several months Microsoft expects to launch an experimental search site called Viveri, designed to allow the company's researchers to easily roll out new search ideas.

Currently, it's difficult for researchers to try out their ideas in the real world, said Robert Rounthwaite, software architect at Microsoft Research. He showed off Viveri on Tuesday in Redmond, Washington, at the company's annual TechFest event, where researchers demonstrate and discuss their latest developments.

Microsoft researchers working on new search technologies will be able to quickly and easily load their developments on Viveri and anyone in the public can try them out. After an initial spike in users, Rounthwaite expects that a regular set of technology enthusiasts will continue to use the site because they'll be interested in experimenting with new developments.

The site will serve Live Search results and is being built using Silverlight, Microsoft's technology for designing online user interfaces.

Rounthwaite expects that initial innovations will be rolled out in a staggered fashion, but he showed off a few that users can expect to see.

One technology aims to better deliver search results from vertical search engines. When a user types a search item into the field, a typical list of results pops up. But on the right hand side of the screen several boxes appear. Each box contains results from within a specific domain that is relevant to the search term. The domain could be, for instance,, Craigslist, Consumer Reports or WebMD, depending on relevancy.

One problem with that idea is that some of those sites don't use standard query mechanisms so Microsoft can't return results. Rounthwaite optimistically said that if the sites knew that Microsoft was hoping to deliver such information, they'd make the necessary changes to be included.

Another test feature is a box that appears at the top of the right column that includes related search terms scattered around the box in bold multicolored text. Microsoft hopes that users will be more apt to see and click on those terms than if they were arranged in a simple list.

The researchers are also working on a new take on the "similar pages" link that appears in Google search results. Rather than using that vague description, the researchers have developed a way to display a more specific phrase. For example, if a user searches for "Disney," rather than seeing a link to similar pages, the user will see specific search phrases like "Disneyland" in highlighted text. Clicking on that word will bring up a new search specific to Disneyland.

Rounthwaite couldn't say specifically when the site will go live, but he said he expects it to launch some time this summer.