Microsoft’s search quality improving at a rapid rate, says Qi Lu

12 Dec 2008

The dynamic whizz kid driving Microsoft’s online strategy, Qi Lu, who the company poached from Yahoo!, has said that while the company has its work cut out catching up on Google, its search quality is improving at a very rapid rate.

Lu joined Microsoft four months after leaving Yahoo!, where he was head of engineering for the Search and Advertising Technology Group, and gained a reputation as a top-tier technologist.

He was recruited personally by Steve Ballmer, who impressed on Lu the company’s commitment to R&D investment in the years ahead.

“The other thing Steve said that helped convince me this was the right thing for me to do was his commitment to product quality, because you compete in the marketplace on the strength of the product that you bring to the market. You must have a strong commitment to protect the quality of the user experience in the product that you build.”

Lu said there are several key forces driving product innovation at Microsoft.

“One is the advent of more powerful computing infrastructures, [such as] cloud computing infrastructures that enable R&D teams to go through a vast amount of data and find and fix problems very, very quickly.

“This enables teams to improve the product quality at a much faster rate, and will also help us to better understand user intent when they do a search. And the more we understand user intent, the more we can present better search results and an overall search experience that is dramatically improved from where we are today, whether it’s through better completion of a particular task or the discovery of very useful and interesting information.

“Another trend is the web as a platform for publishing all sorts of content. There is more and more rich and fresh content, and more engaging social content. So, there is a lot more material to work with. If we’re able to understand user intent better, and combine that with the richer content available out there, we will be able to produce a very engaging search experience.”

In terms of opportunities in the search and online space, Lu said there is a genuine opportunity for Microsoft to take its search products to the next level.

“Microsoft’s search product quality is improving at a very, very fast rate, there are great foundations there. And with the technology base, the talent base, the computing infrastructures, I’m confident that we will be in a position to produce a differentiated and compelling search experience.

“The second opportunity is to continue building a very powerful advertising platform. Microsoft has made a series of strategic acquisitions, and also built a bunch of internal technologies and products.

“The key is to put all those assets together to build powerful, highly scalable advertising platforms. The advertising we see today will be very different in the future because of new platforms for it. Ads will be truly relevant and useful, and the experience will be compelling.”

The obvious elephant in the room is Google, but Lu is confident the target can be snared. “To win in the search space, fundamentally you build on the strengths of your product. And we know what it takes to build a compelling user experience and winning product, which is to have a powerful infrastructure, great talent and put great processes in place so that we can out-develop, out-market and out-innovate our competitors.

“But make no mistake; I think Google is a very, very powerful company. It is definitely ahead in the search space. There are a lot of challenges ahead. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Lu said.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Qi Lu, president of the Online Services Group, Microsoft

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years