Microsoft Kumo Search to Take on Google. Again.

Contributing Editor

Microsoft have Google in their sightsMicrosoft have announced they are testing a new search engine, Kumo, on their corporate network. If the test is successful, Kumo will be rolled into Live.com or possibly introduced as a new search site.

The company have worked hard to build a better, more competitive, search engine. The indexing system will understand entire sentences and the relationships between individual words. In theory, it will lead to more accurate results.

Does anyone have a feeling of déjà vu? We have been here several times before with both Microsoft and other companies claiming they have a Google-beater. Big claims and big launches are regularly followed by big failures.

It is understandable why Microsoft want to take on Google; they are the biggest threat to the company’s future revenues. A better search engine will hit Google where it hurts. Unfortunately, no matter how good Kumo is, it will struggle:

  1. Introducing a new search engine takes time. Google was launched in 1997 and it still took two or three years to become a mainstream success. Microsoft need instant results and it is highly unlikely to happen.
  2. Ten years ago, Google was far better than the competition. How much better? Twice as good? Three times? It is impossible to put a figure on it, but the difference was significant. Kumo can not hope to match that: it may be 25% faster and more accurate than Google, but the difference will feel negligible.
  3. Google is a brand that is synonymous with searching the web. In the same way that people refer to “drinking a Coke” or “hoovering their room”, users will “Google” for keywords. Brand recognition such as that occurs once or twice in a generation; it can not be forced or bought no matter how hard Microsoft try.

I hope Kumo is as good as Microsoft claim. Competition is always a good thing and Google should not become complacent. However, can anyone realistically create a better search engine when Google is good enough for most people?

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  • Joe544

    How can microsoft even try this? I mean, Google has been the industry leader for years now, in the current economic climate surely this could make or break their web presence?

  • http://www.hiveon.com Hiveon

    From the screenshot i see at CNET, it looks like a legit contender. http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10186108-56.html

  • Anonymously

    Ha, guess you could say the same thing 10 years ago about Microsoft. People and technology cycle… there is no rule saying that Microsoft can’t beat Google. Further, it’s really not Microsoft beating Google, but companies that Microsoft bought beating Google. Meaning, there are a lot of small companies and VC backed companies that never made it this far…. 10s of thousands. Google is most likely not going to be around 30 years from now. At least that’s my opinion.

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Craig, if Kumo is done with Powerset technology – as it actually is – Google should watch out.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Let’s hope Kumo is better than Google – we all want faster more relevant search results. However, winning the hearts and minds of search engine users is another matter.

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    I agree: Google is a matter of habit and habits die hard. I don’t really believe that Microsoft will pull it, but Twitter search has some chances.

  • shuriken

    ‘Google should watch out.’

    Microsoft’s problem is that its main competitors — Google and Apple — /do/ watch out. They work and think to protect their technological lead, not just their market share and platform leverage.

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    @shuriken the problem with Google is that they grew so much they think that no one can dethrone them. The underestimate their enemies, which is never a smart move. The “watch out” is a “if you can’t beat them, buy them” approach. Apple is a company with great innovation in many fields. You say “Google technological lead” – aside the search engine there’s nothing Google competitors cannot defeat easily. If Google loses search supremacy they might as well close their offices, for there will be nothing left there to support their business.

  • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

    I just talked with Barney Pell (CEO Powerset MS) the other day ironically. I think Kumo will come with some interesting organizational aspects and of course “natural language” relevance to a great extent. Netscape Navigator was a name for several years too, and quite a nice one, Yahoo! too. Google has been on top for a while, not to sound contrary Craig, but either great innovation or just downright coolness will illustrate how fickle people are.

    We engaged these search engines at the advent of the great semantic debate when Powerset and hakia led the struggle. Since then 100 search engines have emerged. Powerset, on which this technology likely rests, was by far the winner among the up an coming. Microsoft may do some stupid things, but I think they balance it with equally brilliant moves too. I know Barney, he is a brilliant scientist, from my early talks with him, it was readily apparent that he and now Microsoft were in this for the long haul. I do not think we can take too much for granted. Google is a powerful brand, but so was Converse in the sneaker world way back when. :)

    Always,
    Phil

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Ironically, Microsoft is the most dominant software company in the world despite having their core software berated for being uncool and lacking in innovation:

    * Windows is slammed for being uglier, slower, and more insecure, but is way ahead of Apple and Linux.

    * IE is still the most used browser even though it lacks the power, speed, and features of its competitors.

    Search engine competition is good and Microsoft certainly has the talent and budget to make Kumo the best. But being the best does not always make you the most successful.

  • shuriken

    ‘aside the search engine there’s nothing Google competitors cannot defeat easily. If Google loses search supremacy they might as well close their offices’

    Of course, and do you think Google’s been asleep on natural language processing over the last decade? Then have a look at Google Translate.

    Sure, MS has deep pockets, but what have the tens of billions of dollars of R&D bought them during Google’s rise?

    Check out this prediction:
    “By this time next year, Google’s search business will be larger and more profitable than the most profitable and legendary monopoly in history–Microsoft Windows. (Just Google’s search business–that doesn’t even include AdSense).”
    http://www.businessinsider.com/2008/5/google-to-surpass-size-of-microsoft-windows-in-2009

    It was written nearly a year ago. I guess we’ll see.

  • AndrewCooper

    On one hand, I hope Kumo is a failure and Google reigns the king of search for many many years to come, because I’ve taken a shine to Google.

    On the other hand, I really hope Kumo is mind-blowingly amazing and kicks Google’s butt and dethrones them because I’m a Microsoft fanboy and just want Microsoft to be successful! Haha!

    We’ll see, but Kumo looks good so far.

    Andrew Cooper

  • http://www.mikeborozdin.com/ Mike Borozdin

    Andrew,

    I hardly imagine a search engine being a mind-blowing, only in case it will be able to search inside video. Ha-ha!

    I’m a Microsoft Student Partner, so I have to promote Microsoft products in academics, but Live really sucks. Even when I’m looking for some technical questions it doesn’t fetch me MSDN, while Google does.

  • DirectJump

    Would people readily use or think of “Kumo”? Doubt it…a little arcane.

    Kumo can even be misspelled:

    (“Koomoh”, “Koomo”, “Khumo”, “Kumho”, “Koomho”, “Koomoh”, “Kumoh”, “Khumho”, “coomo”, “coomoh”, …)

    People may be more likely to “DirectJump” it though…
    It’s a regular sounding word-phrase that makes sense (for English speakers anyways).

    MS DirectJump…Microsoft DirectJump…MS DJ…Microsoft DJ…all have a nice vibe…

    “DirectJump” – it can be thought of by itself or combined with “Microsoft” in front of it.

    In time, it may be thought of as “DJ-ing” it…

    Oh well…jmho.

    Kumo is japanese for “spider” (e.g. web crawling) or “cloud” (e.g. cloud computing) but
    most non-Japanese people just won’t incorporate it into their vernacular.

    However, DirectJump is more comprehensible and sounds more normal. It’s regular but catchy.
    The word “DirectJump” also connotes low-level computer programming which
    could even earn the affection of some computer afficionados.

  • DirectJump

    Would people readily use or think of “Kumo”? Doubt it…a little arcane.

    Kumo can even be misspelled:

    (“Koomoh”, “Koomo”, “Khumo”, “Kumho”, “Koomho”, “Koomoh”, “Kumoh”, “Khumho”, “coomo”, “coomoh”, …)

    People may be more likely to “DirectJump” it though…
    It’s a regular sounding word-phrase that makes sense (for English speakers anyways).

    MS DirectJump…Microsoft DirectJump…MS DJ…Microsoft DJ…all have a nice vibe…

    DirectJump” – it can be thought of by itself or combined with “Microsoft” in front of it.

    In time, it may be thought of as “DJ-ing” it…

    Oh well…jmho.

    Kumo is japanese for “spider” (e.g. web crawling) or “cloud” (e.g. cloud computing) but
    most non-Japanese people just won’t incorporate it into their vernacular.

    However, DirectJump is more comprehensible and sounds more normal. It’s regular but catchy.
    The word “DirectJump” also connotes low-level computer programming which
    could even earn the affection of some computer afficionados.