Search wars – Google and MSN brandish new weapons for phone and web

7 Nov 2009

A long-running turf war escalated this week with both Google and Microsoft unleashing and previewing new features in the fight to the hearts of users’ digital lives, on the PC or on the move.

Both Google and Microsoft are battling to be the social glue of our lives in the coming years offline and online, and the key is simple and practical search and discovery tools. Google this week unveiled a range of new search technologies while Microsoft revamped MSN to provide instant access to its discovery engine.

Google, for its part, has begun introducing multiple images to universal search, which gives users a greater range of options. In its example, it shows a search for bouncy castles and this resulted in multiple images and multiple store options for buying bouncy castles. This could also potentially mean a greater chance for businesses to make it to the top of search results and for more to appear on Page 1 of a search.

multiple search example

It also added a new tool to the Search Options panel called page previews, currently available in English, Japanese and Korean. Page previews allow you to see additional text as well as an image preview of the page. This is a new way to summarise web pages that show up in the search-results list.

On Monday, the search giant also introduced search by voice technology for Nokia S60 devices. The new version of Google Mobile App, which is available in English and Mandarin Chinese, places a shortcut to Google search on your Nokia phone’s home screen, allowing you to search using your voice or by typing. You can search for anything — from “movie times” to “fish ‘n chips” to “masala dosa.” And Google Mobile App shows search results in the application, so you don’t have to wait for a web browser to launch to get an answer.

mobile voice search

Not to be outdone, on Wednesday, Microsoft previewed a revamped MSN portal that revealed how deeply integrated is into the future direction of Microsoft’s online products.

In response to feedback from customers asking for easier access to the latest information from their friends, favourite sources and hot web topics, Microsoft said the new home page provides quick access to powerful Bing search, favourite social networks, more relevant local information, and the latest news and entertainment information — all in one location.

“More than half of people online start their sessions on sites like MSN and they told us they want simplicity — yet still want the latest information and their favourite services delivered together,” said Lisa Gurry, senior director, MSN.

“With our large audience and sophisticated technology, we were able to gather a tremendous amount of customer feedback to ensure we delivered the online experience customers are really craving.”

Home page offerings

The new home page has 50pc fewer links, and is focused on providing access to the information and services people care about most. It is designed for simpler navigation across the Top 5 information areas for customers: entertainment, news, sports, lifestyle and finance. Premium content is supplied through partnerships with MSNBC, FOX Sports, Hearst, Rodale, Meredith, Mayo Clinic and more, as well as bloggers and social-media sites.

Bing is deeply integrated as the core search service throughout the home page, via key areas such as shopping, travel and local, and as a way of highlighting hot topics, trends or people.

The new MSN home page also incorporates comprehensive local information, offering more real-time community news than any other home page. Included is a new offering, MSN Local Edition, which provides the latest information on local weather, news, sports, entertainment and dining, and traffic and events, grouped by ZIP code.

“The time was right for us to make a big bet, and our approach needed to be bold,” said Gurry. “Today is an important transformation for MSN, and it’s only the beginning.”

By John Kennedy

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