• MrBill

    Hi there Danny, my ears were burning so I thought I’d clarify a few things. Thanks for the kind words.

    You got the chronology of my tenure at MSN Search more or less right. I actually started in the summer of 1998 but we launched a pure Inktomi version in September 1998, about the time we licensed Looksmart’s directory. In early 1999 we launched the server software with our own relevancy ranking against the Looksmart directory and appended Inktomi results when there weren’t enough relevant results to fill the results page.

    A few more tidbits that you and your readers may find interesting…

    * The decision to switch to AltaVista was an awful one, which I objected to strenuously, but I was overruled. The good news is that throughout it all, Inktomi was a great partner and we never turned them off, so when we finally were able to switch back, it was very quick and easy.
    * I think it was about 1999 or 2000 when we first started noticing this search engine called Google growing in MediaMetrix reach about 1.5% PER MONTH. That’s almost unheard of. I knew they were on to something, and alerted MSN management (which changed every few months) every six months or so. I was always told “Search is not core to our business, Google is not a competitor, Yahoo is not the competition, AOL is the competitor to beat, subscription services is how we’re going to win.” Hailstorm anyone? Please.
    * It was even worse for John Krass, who was publicly castigated in large meetings at least twice for suggesting that MSN should compete against Google. We had plans to release an MSN Search toolbar twice and both times it was cancelled by senior MSN management. John did a yeoman’s job of trying to convince his management to pay attention to Google, but they continued to ignore Google.
    * In 2002 they re-organized MSN Search yet again and my new boss was Kai-Fu Lee — yes, the same one who’s now at Google as President of Google Chinea after being sued by Microsoft for defecting (after I left for Expedia). One of the reasons I left MSN Search was that Kai-Fu told me, it’s pretty clear Microsoft is not going to invest in web search, so you might as well work on search technology for a product that Microsoft does care about (Windows). He was right, so I did.
    * If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I didn’t bypass MSN management and communicate the importance of web search to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. I was a good soldier and didn’t go above my boss’s head, which in hindsight was a mistake. That said, I would have done it differently — Microsoft could have been the one to buy Inktomi and Overture instead of Yahoo, and the world would be much different now for both companies…

    Microsoft has a long history of eventually getting it right, even if it takes a while. Hopefully for Microsoft’s sake, they will.

    Bill Bliss

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, Bill — was going to track down your email address and see if you’d go public with some of these things. You saved me the time!

  • http://www.thesage-speaks.com TheSage

    I think MSN Live has a LONG WAY to go compete in the search space. There index seems to be just a fraction of Yahoo or Google’s. I am hopeful they can crate something good. By all means, they have plenty of cash backing them.