Friday, May 23, 2008

Microsoft's Announcement

At 7:45 this morning, Microsoft posted an announcement on its blog that:

Today we informed our partners that we are ending the Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects and that both sites will be taken down next week. Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes.

This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs. We recognize that this decision comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.

They explain:
With Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, we digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries.

This is a significant change in strategy for Microsoft, which has been attempting to catch up with Google in the search engine stakes.

In one of the earliest posts on this blog in November, 2005 here, I talked about Microsoft joining the Open Content Alliance whose goal, according to, is: "to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and technical papers and make them available on the Web for almost universal access."

I suspect the key to this new move is here:
We have learned a tremendous amount from our experience and believe this decision, while a hard one, can serve as a catalyst for more sustainable strategies. To that end, we intend to provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books. We are also removing our contractual restrictions placed on the digitized library content and making the scanning equipment available to our digitization partners and libraries to continue digitization programs. We hope that our investments will help increase the discoverability of all the valuable content that resides in the world of books and scholarly publications.

Today's Wall Street Journal had an article about Microsoft's continuing "dance" with Yahoo over full or part acquisition:
For now, discussions remain focused on Yahoo's search business without any new negotiations on a full acquisition, people close to the matter say. Yahoo separately is close to a deal to carry search ads from Google Inc., say people familiar with the matter -- a pact that could further stir the waters.

Google is far and away the #1 search engine in use today. According to comScore, Inc. these were the March, 2008 statistics for percentage of the search engine market each holds:

1) Google 59.8% (up from 59.2% in February)
2) Yahoo! 21.3%
3) Microsoft 9.4%
4) AOL LLC 4.8%
5) Ask Network 4.7%

Combining #2 and #3 isn't going to be enough. Even if Microsoft buys Yahoo, that only gives them 30.7% of the search engine market with Google still nearly 30 percentage points ahead of them.

My guess is that cooler heads at Microsoft are taking a good, hard look at the chances of Microsoft's beating Google out as the top search engine. Digitizing the world's books is a very BIG, very expensive project.

Read the announcement here.

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