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Will Microsoft's Kumo Bring New Visual Dimension to Search?

Will Microsoft's Kumo Bring New Visual Dimension to Search?

Microsoft seems to be amping up visual search capabilities in its upcoming Kumo search engine, if leaked screenshots are any indication. The new product could use images to search for images, for example. It also seems to organize results a bit differently -- into categories that could perhaps be fine-tuned to accommodate user preferences.

Microsoft has tipped its hand, perhaps intentionally, with the leak of screenshots revealing Kumo -- the renamed, revamped version of its Live Search.

The screenshots were accompanied by a memo penned by search executive Satya Nadella, asking Microsoft employees for feedback. The new search engine appears to be slated for release in the second part of this year.

The layout of the Kumo page is simple: ads relating to the search on the right, images on top and search results dominating the page. One of the search samples -- country singer Taylor Swift -- displays the predictable concert ticket ads, along with images of the singer.

The search results are organized a bit differently from other search engines, with groupings into categories such as as Taylor Swift Songs, Taylor Swift Biography, Taylor Swift Albums and so on.

Another screenshot -- a search of the 2009 Audi S8 -- shows categories for Audi Parts, Used Audis, Audi Forums and Audi Accessories.

Semantic Search

The intuitive, or semantic, search functionality that appears to underpin Kumo is no doubt a result of its acquisition last year of Powerset, Dermot Corrigan, CEO of Imprezzeo, told TechNewsWorld.

That functionality and Kumo's use of imagery appear to be the key strengths of the forthcoming product.

"Based on the content of the Kumo leak, I would say we can expect to see a greater emphasis on visual search in the MS Live overhaul -- using images, for instance, as examples to find other images."

Visual search has been lagging in quality -- a function of most search engines applying the text-based search paradigm to image searches, noted Corrigan.

"Shoehorning a search solution for one type of media into another is about as effective as one would expect. Consumers need visual search to do for images what semantic search does for text: the visual equivalent of extracting meaning from an image. Based on this demand, we can fully expect Microsoft to more completely develop its image search technology."

Third Place

Now third in search engine rankings, Microsoft is hoping to bolster its customized search bona fides with this release, Ken Saunders, president of Search Engine Experts, told TechNewsWorld.

It's likely that "as Kumo learns about a searcher's preferences, these categories will become more specific to their needs," Saunders said.

It is impossible to judge with any certainty, however, whether Microsoft has merely fine-tuned a lackluster product or whether it has introduced a new dynamic in the current line of search engine players -- which are, it hardly needs to be said, dominated by Google.

Google led the U.S. core search market in December with 63 percent of the searches conducted, according to comScore's most recent monthly qSearch analysis. Yahoo followed with 21 percent, and Microsoft came in with 8.5 percent. AOL (3.9 percent) and Ask Network (3.7 percent) brought up the rear.

Right now, it is difficult to imagine Google being dislodged from its top perch in search, Charles King, principal of Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld, "but I am not ready to admit that Google is unbeatable in search." Or that no other development will ever dislodge search as the primary way to establish and maintain relationships with consumers.

In the 1990s, Microsoft's dominance of the browser market seemed unassailable -- and the browser market was the only way to connect with consumers, King recalled, but "a little group of volunteers at an organization called 'Mozilla' decided they were going to try to change that."

In most industries, he said, long-term dominance cannot be sustained indefinitely.


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