Ozzie hints at Microsoft's search future, downplays Yahoo

Microsoft's Ray Ozzie suggested that Microsoft has some clear ideas on the next direction it will take for search, downplaying any Yahoo deal

Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie on Wednesday suggested that Microsoft has its own clear ideas on the next direction it will take in Internet search, downplaying any deal the company might still make with Yahoo in favor of highlighting Microsoft's own ambitions.

Speaking via webcast at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference in New York, Ozzie called Yahoo merely an "accelerator" to Microsoft's plans to improve its search engine -- which he said was one of three key factors to succeeding on the Web -- not its entire plan. In addition to having a strong search engine, Ozzie cited user engagement and a scalable ad platform as other requirements for having a successful and profitable Internet business.

"Yahoo was not a strategy unto itself," he said. Rather, Microsoft is mulling its own changes to its search engine to add features beyond the usual keyword-based technology most commonly used today by competitors such as Google and Yahoo, Ozzie suggested in his talk.

"It's hard to think of being in the early days of search, but we all have our habits -- we type our words in the box based on what we're looking for," he said. "But there is room for improvement with how we structure our requests to find the information we want. ...We haven't seen any high-scale implementations for any good, innovative things that have come out."

Ozzie said that Microsoft is considering how to solve possible search scenarios for "when you're trying to arrange a vacation, potentially with other people" or "information related to health because of a friend or relative who might have a health issue." Such comments hint that Microsoft may be following the lead of some smaller search companies and exploring some new search-engine techniques -- such as semantic search -- to compete with Google.

Semantic search attempts to extract meaning from search queries rather than simply matching them up with relevant links based on keywords or previous or related searches. Google still primarily uses keywords to deliver search results.

Powerset, based in San Francisco, is one company pioneering semantic search. Powerset is currently testing a search engine that attempts to understand the meaning of Web pages, using technology licensed from Xerox's PARC subsidiary. That technology creates a semantic representation of Web pages by parsing each sentence and extracting its meaning.

Ozzie did not go into detail about Microsoft's specific plans for its search engine, but he also did not completely dismiss a Microsoft-Yahoo union in the future. He said that Microsoft would "still love to discuss possibilities" with the Internet company, but said he had nothing to add beyond that. Both Microsoft and Yahoo said last week they were open to renegotiating a deal between them after initial negotiations following Microsoft's Feb. 1 bid for Yahoo officially broke down on May 4.

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