Microsoft tests Kumo search tool internally

Boomtown's Kara Swisher reports that Microsoft is testing an upgrade of Live Search, called Kumo, internally and she provides some interesting screen shots. While Microsoft is still a distant third in search, well behind Google and Yahoo, the new Kumo interface looks promising. Maybe Microsoft really is putting some much-needed time and money into getting back into the search game.

According to an internal Microsoft memo Swisher also posts, Kumo is designed to improve on today's current search tools, which leave a lot to be desired:

In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40% of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46% of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today. We believe we can provide a better and more useful search experience that helps you not just search but accomplish tasks.

What's unclear is if those statistics pertain solely to Live Search or to search overall (including Google). Still, improving search is a laudable goal, and one that Kumo's layout looks to aid. According to the screenshots, Kumo offers three columns on the search result page: a large middle column with organic search results, a smaller righthand column with text ads, and the best part: a smaller lefthand column that includes other categories associated with the search term, some related search terms (like "jennifer lopez" for a search on "Taylor Swift"), and a quick view of the search history. And even with all that info, the page doesn't seem cluttered.

Whether Kumo makes it all the way to the marketplace as-is is questionable, but it looks promising. And it's about time Microsoft produced some real technology (Kumo looks like it's based on Microsoft's Powerset acquisition) to help it tweak its less than optimal search experience. Google is constantly updating its own search, sometimes just for fun but mostly to provide a truly better search experience. And any technology, especially search, needs to constantly evolve to stay relevant. It looks like Microsoft is wising up and actually trying to evolve its search tool--as opposed to simply rebranding it or paying users to use it. And Kumo is an interesting step. The question is: Is it too little too late?

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