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Say it ain’t so. . .

After much anticipated fanfare, Microsoft launched NewsBot into beta for it’s headline MSNBC site. Looks like the advertising execs got their hands on it first though because, according to an MSN spokesperson, NewsBot favors MSNBC stories over others.

an MSN spokeswoman later confirmed it in e-mail. “As Newsbot resides on MSNBC and is branded as such, MSNBC is considered a first among equals, meaning that if they and another top-tier source offer the same story, information, etc., MSNBC will be listed first, followed by other sources,” wrote Elizabeth Herrera Smith.

So much for objectivity!

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MSN Newsbot – US Version

UPDATE: Correction. I see that the US Newsbot site has launched this morning and is framed as subset of the overall MSNBC site.

According to this CNet article, Microsoft will launch Newsbot on Tuesday next week. Although it doesn’t spell this out explicitly, it appears that this will be a site focused on aggregating news sources from North America and supplement the 17 other regional beta sites that are already up and running.

So I guess the dancing and zoning is over and the beta & pre-promotion period begins.

A shame too, now that the Toronto Star is about to join the New York Times and Globe & Mail behind the subscription wall. I guess they’ll miss the party.

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MSN Newsbot expands coverage

Depending upon your perspective, Microsoft is either dancing around or zoning in on perfecting their news searching technology with their launch of six new regions of their Newsbot beta.

Belgium
Germany
Ireland
Switzerland (French)
Switzerland (German)
US (Spanish)
Indonesia
Philippines

This brings the total to 17 regional views of the news.

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On things being in more than one place

Infoworld’s Jon Udell posts outtakes from his interview with Quentin Clark, the director of program management for Microsoft’s WinFS that will serve as core technology of the next generation of Windows code-named Longhorn. Of particular interest is his take on Outlook’s current limitations and the problems posed by trying to work through this:

. . . The limitation of Outlook 11 is that it doesn’t allow you to put an item in more than one user lassoing. We want to allow multiple lists, or folders, where you can put the same thing in both. We’re removing that Outlook limitation.

We encountered significant design challenges around user experience and expectations, and also problems around the DAG (directed acyclic graph). Consider security. I take an item, it lives in a bunch of folders, what is the security on that thing? Folder 2 has it too, then moves to folder 3. All the way back on folder 1, does the owner have any way to know what’s happened? Then there’s naming. If I have a doc, call it “jon’s doc,” created in a single folder, then I want to have it appear twice in that same folder, what is it called? If it’s in a second folder, and I delete it from folder 1, then at some point I rename folders and put the doc back, calculating namespaces becomes complex.

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Lookout Purchased by Microsoft

Surprise, Surprise. Lookout, the Outlook add-in that I’ve been touting for some time now, has been scooped up by the MSN division of Microsoft. They will be rolling in Lookout’s universal search technology into the next generation MSN search technology. Nothing more than vague musing right now but the statements from the Microsoft press release below points to a vision where MSN will reach into your email box and hard disk connecting internet searches with queries on your inbox and hard drive.

This acquisition builds on the range of new and updated services MSN launched July 1 for its MSN Search service. As part of a $100 million investment in improving the customer experience, MSN delivered its most significant upgrade to MSN Search, introducing several changes designed to help give people faster, cleaner and easier access to the information they want. Specific improvements included a new MSN Search home page (at http://search.msn.com/) that features easy navigation to popular MSN services; a new, cleaner look for its search results page that separates algorithmic results from paid results and eliminates paid inclusion; direct access to popular information sources such as Encarta®, the No. 1 best-selling encyclopedia brand*; and extensive performance improvements.

These improvements were initial steps toward achieving the MSN vision of taking search beyond today’s basic Internet search services to delivering direct answers to people’s questions from a broad range of information. As part of this vision, MSN will launch a new algorithmic search engine and a range of other search services within a year. With the acquisition of Lookout, MSN adds additional expertise and technology that will contribute to this vision.

Time to add mentions of “algorithmic search engine” to my clipping profile for news about Microsoft Search.

UPDATE: Anil, looking at the fine print in the revised license agreement, notices that Microsoft is now licensing an Apache product and points to Joel who has his own theories.

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Wall Street Journal picks up scent

Front Page of yesterday’s Marketplace section has two stories, side-by-side, picking up on the meme of universal search with a graphic of two bloodhounds trying to get their way into a PC. One covers the announcement of the beta MSN search interface announced yesterday and the second looks at Apple’s Spotlight utility for desktop search. Both articles pose the theory that each of these companies are edging into the search space as a key differentiators. Microsoft’s approach is to create a better portal to the internet and Apple is working on getting an integrated desktop search out the door ahead of Microsoft’s Longhorn launch which promises better desktop searching.

If Microsoft is launching a better internet search engine to couple to their improved desktop search tools launching with Longhorn, and Apple is bundling better desktop search with Spotlight, the only thing missing is Apple integrated with an internet search engine. Apple’s Safari browser already integrates Google without the need of a separate toolbar – wonder what will happen to Sherlock which was Apple’s first attempt to embed internet searching into the desktop? Will Apple build its own, partner with a partner like Google, or reach out to the developer community to add on to Spotlight internet search integration?

Not exactly an admission, the article about Spotlight digs in to ask if either Google or Yahoo are looking at getting into the desktop search business themselves,

Google, which has become synonymous with finding information on the Internet, is working on its own tool for searching a PC, according to people who have talked with the company. A Google spokesman declined to comment on any product plans. Analysts say Yahoo may also get into desktop search. “If we think that’s something we need to do, we’ll look at it,” a Yahoo spokeswoman says.

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MSN Search Preview

Microsoft announced a new, cleaner UI that clearly identifies paid advertisers and provides drop down access to predefined content sets such as News, Stock Quotes, Movies, and Shopping. This is part of a $100 million investment that Microsoft has made in this space which clearly underlines the importance Microsoft is placing on getting this experience right.

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URL is the new command line

Flash forward to where we in this debate today. John Gruber points out in his post The Location Field Is the New Command Line, that web-based applications are leapfrogging hardware-specific applications, despite their inferiority.

What they’ve got going for them in the ease-of-use department is that they don’t need to be installed, and they free you from worrying about where and how your data is stored. Exhibit A: web-based email apps. In terms of features, especially comfort features such as a polished UI, drag-and-drop, and a rich set of keyboard shortcuts, web-based email clients just can’t compare to desktop email clients.

But.

With web-based email, you can get your email from any browser on any computer on the Internet. “Installation” consists of typing a URL into the browser’s location field. The location field is the new command line.
from Daring Fireball

He concludes that Microsoft missed the boat by targeting Netscape. It’s not the company that was a threat, not even the browser, it was the applications that were enabled by the URL concept that is a threat to the Windows monopoly.