Live Labs will investigate a broad and comprehensive set of research topics such as multimedia search, machine learning, distributed computing and data mining, and will engage in rapid prototyping and the incubation of disruptive technologies.It is interesting that Search Labs is focusing on personalized search and social search. With Yahoo's efforts in social search and Google's personalized search already launched, this move may be a reaction to a perception that Microsoft is falling behind in these areas.
Search Labs will focus on areas such as personalization, socialization and improved user experiences while maintaining strict regard for user privacy.
I found another part of the announcement also to be telling:
Unlike basic research, which is geared toward visionary discoveries that may or may not end up in actual products, and product development, which is feature-focused and geared toward solving tactical engineering problems, Live Labs' applied research will study the relationship and applicability of theories or principles to the solution of a problem or an actual product or service.At Google, the hordes of PhDs are integrated into the broader organization. Everyone is doing applied R&D.
At Microsoft Research, the researchers are isolated. This preserves their independence, but makes it quite hard for the good ideas in MSR to make it to the product teams, a problem that is aggravated by a NIH attitude in the product teams that extends even to MSR.
Live Labs and Search Labs sound like an effort to bridge that gap, to be a little more Google-like with their brainiacs.
A bit more information on Microsoft Live Labs is available at labs.live.com.
See also articles by Gary Price and Todd Bishop.
See also my previous post, "Microsoft adLab and targeted ads".
Update: Interesting thoughts from Nathan Weinberg:
Everyone, both people working at Microsoft and outsiders, agrees that MS gets outdone by three-person startups that can be more nimble, more reckless and more innovative.On a related note, Guy Kawasaki, in his post "Intrapreneurship", has some good advice for those seeking to create a team that acts like a startup within a much larger firm.
Live Labs ... is free from the restrictions normally imposed on development teams. They will be able to work without worrying about how their product affects existing teams and existing revenue models, with the end results being the sole purpose of the team.
In a sense, it's a startup within Microsoft.