13 Nov 2008

Keynote Address by Satya Nadella of Microsoft Live Search

GOOD MORNING, LAS VEGAS!

What? The all caps too much? Try being in a session at 8am with Let’s Get It Started and Pocket Full of Sunshine blasting over the speakers at torturous levels. Not so fun, is it? No. No it’s not. [covers ears, whimpers]

But it’s time for a keynote! This time our guest is Satya Nadella from Microsoft Live Search.

He wants to have a conversation on two topics: The evoluton of search and services that Microsoft is providing for publishers. Sounds good.

Consumer Web Ecosystem

There are two parts to the Web: The publishers who attract the audience and the advertisers [I guess those pesky users don’t exist]. The transformation that we’re seeing now is that whoever has built at-scale platforms is able to take that and provide them as broader platforms for the entire industry. You can go to people like Amazon and get infrastruture services that you can use to build your app or Web site. You also see an opening up of search portals so that people can take advantage of the basic algorithms that are built into a search engine. Even the monetization engines are being made available.

Evolution of Search

To this audience, this not keynote-type information, however, we’ve gone through a lot of change. It’s been a fantastic ride, going through the consumer and browser side.

The questoin to ponder is what’s next? He shares some data that Microsoft looks at. A lot of the evolution is driven by the feedback loop of data. It’s the most analytical business he’s seen. They’re looking at engagement. What are people doing on search engines?  The data shows that 46 percent of users are engaged in >30 minutes sessions. And 52 percent are starting totally new queries. They’re not restarts. That tells him people don’t look at their search experience as a query at a time.

What is a typical search session? You start, you click, you browse, you click, you tweak your query, you click, you browse, etc.

comScore did a study where they tracked search behavior in a session to latent behavior in purchase behavior. The fundamental thing going on here is that people don’t do queries in isolation. They do it related to some task [duh?]. What are the engines going to do to faciliate that task completion? [I recommend you ask Google.]

Search engines have to get better at three things:

  • Much deeper understanding of the queries
  • Much deeper understanding of the content itself
  • Much deeper understanding of user actions

They think the next evolution in search will have consumers going from just typing in queries to executing searches that will help them with their tasks. What it does it mean to take a click and finish a task. Providing much more visibility to the advertiser.

[I’m so confused. Isn’t this what search is based on? A user going to an engine to find information and complete a task? Why are we pretending this is a new revelation. Someone go get me some coffee!]

He asking himself a lot of questions. How do you go from the search technology itself to the rich semantics? How do you go from an index to actually understanding the meaning and the relation of things? The have to start thinking about the user experience. How do you make rich technology accessible in a simple user experience?  That’s what he thinks the evolution of search is. There’s a lot of innovation and testing that needs to be done.

They’re focused on three things:

  • Delivering the best results [I want to apologize to Satya for openly laughing when he said this. I didn’t mean it. ] He thinks he has the indusry leading image and video search.
  • Simplify key tasks: This is where they define the notion of going beyond a simple query and thinking about a session.  They’re focusing on commercial domains — places where there is a significant advertiser interest. They want to create better user experiences and better understand their tasks.
  • Innovate in the business model: He mentions the pathetic Cashback program and calls it the next step in evolving the CPC paradigm.

He brings up Alexandra Mickel from Live Seach to talk about some of the things Microsoft is working on. Shes going to prove that MSN Live is useful. This should be fun.

She does a query for the Bellagio hotel and shows the Auto Suggest feature in MSN Live. She chooses to do an Image query. It brings back results from throughout the Internet and Virtual Earth. You can look at landmarks and see how they’re relative to the cities they reside. She shows the 3D feature where you can zoom in and fly over things.  She pimps their Ask-like refinement features and unlimited scroll capabilities.  I have to give her props for sounding so excited talking about some very basic features.

She talks about how they’ve integrated Farecast technology and their travel vertical.

Now we’re gift shopping for her dad. He turns 70 next week. She shows how MSN’s product search results come up in the main SERPs. Then you can click through and expand and sort the listings. She talks again about the Cashback program. I try not to roll my eyes.

Now we’re in Hotmail and she’s writing an email to her mother. Her entire “family” is a bunch of fake avatars. I know it and you know it.

We’ve moved on to Video Browse. They provide TV shows, movies, sports videos and smart thumbnails that allow you to play the video just by hovering over it. That last part is actually pretty cool.

Peppy Alexandra goes away and Satya is back. Thank heavens.

He asks you to give MSN Live a try for a day and then email him: to let him know what you think.

We’re going to talk more about Cashback. I swear to God I’m going to throw my apple juice. Not at Satya but maybe at Bruce Clay’s Susan Esparza. She’s sitting next to me.

They measure progress on the Cashback program based on 3 things:

  • Consumer choice: 30 percent increase in product offerings available. 20 of the top US online retailers are now involved.
  • On advertisers ROI: eBay improved its ad ROI by 50 percent. Shoemail increased sales by over 600 percent since participating. I have no idea what Shoemail is. Is it related to Shoemoney? Is Jeremy at PubCon?
  • Query growth: 45 million unique users per month using Cashback. Referring 13 percent of total online spending. Live Search ranks as #1 engine for commercial dollars spent per buyer.

They believe there’s a great opportunity for advertisers to get great ROI. They want to build a great experience to help users find what they’re looking for.

Project Silk Road: Services for Developers and Publishers

Project Silk Road is a broad project that involves many different technologies surrounded around the idea of opening up and making portals more transparent to encourage innovation. Open portals include: Live Search API, Virtual Earth API, Video syndication, Instant Answer, FAST ESP, adCenter, API, etc. It’s grounded on the feedback they’re getting from publishers. They care about the base infrastructure services. They want to:

  • Increase Engagement: When it comes to increasing engagement, the first thing they do is provide rich APIs that allow you incorporate Web search results in your own experience. You can customize your 404 errors to increase engagement. Create rich user experiences with Earth and Silverlight.
  • Generate Traffic: Optimize your site with Webmaster Center tools. Deep content partnerships that increase distrubution. Enhanced ad format solutations.
  • Drive Insight: View rich site statics with Webmaster Tool. Monitor ad spend with adcenter publisher. Optimize your campaigns with the adCenter Ad-in for Excel.

Announcement: Today they’re announcing a new release for the Live Search API. There’s easy integration with OpenSearch. Monetization with search ads from adCenter Publisher. Fleibility in ranking and visualizing Wb results. Unlimited usage for Web sites and applications.

Alexandra is back up to give us a demo. Ignore all that and go check out: search.live.com/developers for more info yourselves.

Satya ends things saying that Microsoft has a broad set of assets designed to help you be succesful online. They’re focused on innovating and competing in search.  He says to use please use MSN Live. I think that’s the fourth time he’s said that.

There’s no Q&A.