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Saturday, March 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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MSN to add features Google got to first

By Kim Peterson
Seattle Times technology reporter

ANDY ROGERS / AP
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chief software architect, speaks to advertising- and Internet-industry representatives at the MSN Strategic Account Summit yesterday in Redmond.
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Microsoft's MSN division, still playing technological catch-up to Internet search king Google, said yesterday that it would soon introduce tools for people to search news articles online.

The offering — along with a similar Web-log search feature — are part of a drive at MSN to expand its information services and build the kind of consumer enthusiasm seen with Apple Computer's iPod, the TiVo digital television recorder and the Google search engine, said Yusuf Mehdi, a corporate vice president in the division.

"We have yet to build those products that I think are almost evangelical in nature," he said yesterday, speaking to hundreds of advertisers and marketers at an annual conference hosted by MSN.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Yahoo! Chief Executive Terry Semel also spoke at the event. Gates said selling subscriptions to customers — for mobile services, MSN software and other features — is very important to Microsoft.

"This is the decade where digital devices will become part of very much mainstream activity," Gates said.

Semel said Internet portals, including fierce competitors Yahoo! and MSN, should work together to attract advertising spending. More people than ever use the Internet for more activities, including sending instant messages, listening to music and playing games, he said.

"We recognize that this is not a mistake," he said. "This is not an accident, this is not a one-time event. This is a changing tide."

MSN plans to launch a music service this year, Mehdi said. The service will not exist to sell hardware in the way that Apple Computer's iTunes service generates iPod sales, he said. Nor will it promote store sales the way that Wal-Mart's service does.

Instead, the service will emphasize discovering music and sharing it with friends online, Mehdi said.

One step at a time, Microsoft is moving into territory dominated by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google. Google started in the dormitory rooms of two Stanford doctoral students in 1998, and Microsoft is kicking itself for not getting into the business at the same time.
 
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Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said Thursday that he regrets not investing more Microsoft resources into Internet search. MSN does not use its own technology for Web searches. Instead, it pays to use search technology from Yahoo!

Ballmer said that MSN would launch its own search engine within the next year. And yesterday, Mehdi gave another peek under the hoodby announcing that a news aggregator was in the works.

Google launched its news-article search service at www.google.com/news in 2002, although the product is still technically in beta mode. The site won in the news category for the 2003 Webby awards, the Internet equivalent of the Academy Awards.

MSN says its MSN Newsbot will be different from Google's because it will learn what the user is looking for over time, and will recommend customized news links based on those preferences.

MSN said it would also offer MSN Blogbot, a tool for users to search Web logs. Known informally as "blogs," these online diaries cover topics from cocktail recipes to celebrity plastic surgery.

Google does not have a blog search service, even though last year it bought Blogger, one of the most well-known blogging software programs on the Internet.

Mehdi also said Microsoft is developing MSN Answerbot, an application to let users find online answers to specific questions. For example, a user could type, "What is the tallest mountain in the United States?" and get the answer.

Google charges users for a similar service, Google Answers. On that site, researchers track down answers for a fee that starts at $2.50, according to Google.

Earlier this year, MSN launched a toolbar application that can be downloaded free. The toolbar includes a search field, so that a user can search the Web without opening a new page.

Google launched its toolbar in 2000.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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