Erik starts by taking issue with my earlier post, "Different visions of the future of search", where I summarized Google, Yahoo, and MSN's strategies by saying:
MSN wants to give you more powerful tools. Yahoo wants the community of users to help improve search. Google wants computers to do all the work to get you what you need.Erik says I got it wrong. From his post:
Yahoo is going down the content ownership path. The idea is to own the content -- whether it be licensed ... [or] their customers ... create content ... However, you have a huge cold-start problem ... and a huge spam problem.Erik is saying that both Google and MSN want to make the computer do the work for you. The difference, Erik says, is that Google does this by taking away features and MSN will do it by adding features.
Google and Microsoft have generally the same idea, although Microsoft has been slow to coming around to it. The old saying is that a computer will give you what you ask for, not what you want. Both Google and Microsoft are trying to give you what you want, not what you ask for.
The difference is in approach. Google, like some other companies like Apple, are fans of making things easy. How do you make things easy? Remove choice ... The Google homepage is a model for simplicity ... There's a big search box, and not much else. Hard to do something besides enter a query ...
Microsoft wants to make its products useful. And how do you make a product useful? It's all about features. That's why Live.com is just chock-full of random features, such as RSS feeds and weather and all the other normal portal goodies.
Greg got things a bit wrong in his article ... [MSN Live.com] isn't about changing what users do, but providing them with what they need to get their job done. If a simple search box will suffice, great. But sometimes other things are better suited, and Microsoft is looking at how to provide those as well.
Great thing for you? Search is gonna get better... much, much, much better. And you're all going to benefit. Gotta love it.
I see his point, but I can't help but think of other Microsoft products. What happened to Microsoft Word as features were added for convenience? It became a complicated mess, so feature rich that even a technogeek like me doesn't know or understand all the features. When I use MS Word, I spend most of my effort ignoring its features so I can get work done. The effort required to exploit its power exceeds the value received.
Erik is optimistic that MSN Search will not go this route. I hope he's right. As usability guru Jakob Nielsen said:
Simplicity is rule #1 for usability ... Fewer features means that those features that do remain in the design will automatically be easier to understand because there are fewer other features to compete for the user's attention.It is not easy to add features and power without overwhelming your users.
Erik is a sharp guy. As one of the key people working on MSN Search, his thoughts on MSN and the future of search are well worth reading. I only have a few excerpts of his post here. Don't miss reading his whole post.
See also my previous posts, "Customization in Windows Live Search" and "Personalized search at PC Forum".
Update: If you enjoyed this and want to hear more, Robert Scoble did a one hour video interview with Erik Selberg back in October 2005.
Update: Erik adds some more thoughts in a second post.