Microsoft Awards Search Engine Research Grants

Microsoft has awarded 12 grants to scientists studying different aspects of search engine technology, an attempt by the Redmond, Wash., company to foster research in this area, Microsoft announced Friday.

Along with a grant of between US$30,000 and $50,000, each award gives the scientist access to more than 15 million queries and accompanying click-through data culled from Microsoft’s MSN search engine. Winners also get permission to use the MSN Search application programming interface (API) more extensively than regular developers.

"The results of the research we’re funding are intended to be totally open to the public," reads a posting on the MSN Search official blog, announcing the winners. "Nothing about this is proprietary."

The queries from the MSN search engine have been "carefully scrubbed to be completely anonymous," and queries containing data such as credit card numbers, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and e-mail addresses were filtered out, according to Microsoft.

The selected research projects touch on a variety of hot topics and offer a peek at the search engine problems and opportunities Microsoft is interested in, as it wages what has so far been a losing battle against market leader Google. Microsoft officials are fond of saying that these are early days in the search engine space and that many improvements can be made, so the company that delivers the next big breakthrough could speed ahead of Google.

Although the scientists can freely publish findings from these projects, so that Microsoft competitors could benefit from them, Microsoft clearly stands to gain from this initiative. The program de facto establishes a collaborative relationship with these research scientists, who will no doubt appreciate Microsoft’s monetary and technical assistance. And their findings necessarily will shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft’s search engine, since scientists will be using the company’s query data and API technology, information Microsoft will be able to use to fine-tune its technology.

Kevin C. Chang from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will explore ways to index and retrieve information from the so-called deep Web, made up of databases that search engines currently can’t access. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Washington will work on a system to analyze streams of search data to infer from user search behavior events and trends, such as an illness affecting people in a specific location. An award also went to Gerd Stumme from the University of Kassel in Germany to study the confluence of social bookmarking services and search engines, and how they can complement one another.

Other topics that winners will explore include the quality of results for health-related queries, ways to reduce Web spam in search results, and techniques to automatically refine queries based on similar searches performed by other users.

-Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service

This article is posted on our Microsoft Informer page. For more news on the Redmond, Wash.-based powerhouse, keep checking in.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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