February 17, 2004 7:45 PM PST

MSN makes play for more searchers overseas

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Microsoft's MSN has unveiled news search in several additional foreign languages, advancing its search strategy internationally to compete with Google.

In November, the software giant's Internet portal launched MSN Newsbot, an automated service that lets visitors tailor news pages and search for items from more than 4,000 information sources. The service was initially offered in test form to people living in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain.

Now, MSN has quietly brought the service to five additional regions: Malaysia, Singapore, India, South Africa and Latin America.

On Wednesday, Moreover Technologies is expected announce with Microsoft that it is the exclusive provider of technology and content for the news services and MyMSN.

MSN's international expansion signals a coming launch in the United States and greater competition for No. 1 search provider Google. Google News is offered in about 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

MSN is experimenting with search at a time when the stakes are high. Advertising revenue from related query results is expected to reach more than $2 billion this year, or a quarter of expected online ad revenue, and nearly $7 billion in the next three years, according to research estimates.

MSN risks losing out if it doesn't prove its search tools effective to Web visitors. Recent research shows that MSN reaches only about 30 percent of the search population on the Internet. While Web surfers are most loyal to Google, they often use two to three different search engines, giving MSN an opportunity to home in on Google's territory.

Yahoo also poses a significant threat to Microsoft, given that the Web portal has aggressively promoted search innovation in the past year and provides the technology and advertising it relies on. Still, Google is commanding Microsoft's attention.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates admitted recently at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, that Google had "kicked our butts" in search, but said that the software company was working to remedy that with new search technology for next year.

MSN has also been releasing new search technology, including a navigation toolbar, in competition with Google's.

Along with news search, Microsoft has started testing new formulas for delivering Web search results and related text ads. In recent weeks, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has experimented with the layout of its Web site, MSN Search Beta, and with delivering a mix of results from its own search technology and that of partners, including Yahoo-owned Inktomi and Overture Services.

"In order to increase relevancy, MSN Search is testing solutions on MSN Search to a small percentage of consumers in various markets worldwide," MSN product manager Karen Redetzki said.

 

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