Go read Ina Fried’s interview with Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi about the company’s efforts to break into search. What you’ll see is classic Microsoft. The company is breaking down the problems it faces with search and taking apart each problem individually.
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Where their efforts are failing, according to Mehdi, is “cases where you are looking for more than just a URL, (if) you are looking to get some insight or you want to actually make a decision.” Unfortunately, large numbers of searches on the web are exactly that – loosely correlated informational queries, as opposed to navigation. Internet marketers will tell you that the usage pattern for many sites is Learn – Shop – Buy – Use. If you don’t catch the customer at Learn, then you have less ability to guide them through Shop and Buy.
And that is where Google has Microsoft beaten at the moment.