It Will Take More Than a Great Product for Microsoft to Gain in Search

Several information blogs reported last week that Microsoft’s new search engine, possibly named Kumo, could debut as early as this week at the All Things Digital conference. Microsoft has been trying to gain more of a voice in the search market for some years and has purchased several search technologies. However, this is the first sign the new engine might be ready to hatch. There is plenty of genuine interest in watching if Microsoft can be a real player in search, but when competing with Google, technology is only one of many battle grounds.

A recent Neilsen study gives Google 64.2 percent of the US search market with Microsoft only at only 10.3 percent. Other studies have put Google’s share closer to 80 percent and growing. Even within Microsoft, it is reported, 80 percent of employees still use Google.

Despite the omnipresence of Google, there is a lot of improvement to be made in search. All of the big search engines return a lot of irrelevant information, especially on long tail searches. Google has had a few outages lately and recently there have been some rumblings at search conferences that perhaps Google has hit a wall– in market share and innovation.

Kumo plans to tackle the challenges of search with some neat user experience features and some potentially powerful back-end technologies. The UI will have a left hand navigation bar that breaks search results into different categories ( photos, blogs, product detail pages etc.) and allows the user to quickly switch between categories. The back-end technology will encompass the abilities of the search engines Microsoft has purchased: Medstory, a health search engine, Farecast, a travel search engine, and the highly anticipated but untested semantic search of Powerset.

With all this innovation, what stands in Kumo’s way? Well, like it or not, Google is the backbone of the Internet right now. It has, arguably, one of the most powerful brand associations in history. Google has become synonymous with finding information. Websites and businesses spend huge amounts of time and money trying to master Google’s algorithms and web crawlers. Google has gained close to a natural monopoly, something that has continually worried federal lawmakers. But people go to Google largely because they want to. And, at the moment, they do have the best technology.

To really gain ground in search, Kumo will have to return better results with a superior user inferface, get a blitz of good press, earn some very influential fans and–most importantly–wait it out. Breaking the Google habit is a cultural shift at this point, even if the technology promotion are perfect. Cultural shifts, though they don’t always seem like it, are long sells. Ripples do become waves, but rarely overnight.

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