Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land was the most outspoken on the topic (I know, shocker!) He pointed to a couple institutional challenges that Microsoft faces:
1. MSFT got into search as a way to make money off online advertising whereas Google got into search because it was passionate about it and wanted to organize the world's information. Danny said that if MSFT was serious about search it would recast the MSN homepage with nothing but a search box (ala Google).
2. MSFT seems unwilling to move away from its core products like Windows. He relayed an anecdote about how Microsoft engineers look at search as homework and just try to crank it out so they can get back to Windows and XBOX. Danny also mentioned how the MSFT mobile search experience is clunky because it’s so tied to Windows.
I’ve met many of the tech folks behind Live Search and they are as passionate about the search space and user experience as anyone. And they’ve released a number of innovative features in Live Search recently -- see my comments on this post. Alas, it may be a case of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it and, therefore, not making a sound.
That said, MSFT does seem to have some momentum behind it in terms of advertiser adoption. Per AdGooroo’s Mid-Quarter Search Engine Update - Q408, Live Search first-page advertiser count increased 29.6% and its share of advertisers now stands at 15.3% -- nipping at the heels of Yahoo, which has dropped to 20.4%.
Bottom line, I agree with Danny that MSFT will never catch up to Google in search. You can’t change your company’s core DNA and the Google habit is too well-formed from a consumer perspective. That said, as Steve Ballmer has always proclaimed, second place in search ain’t a bad place to be!
Update: Danny's comments to this post are right on. No doubt, his overall tone was one of respect for the Live Search folks and their drive to "try harder" (ala Avis). In my zest to capture his more provacative sound bytes, I neglected to give the proper context. Danny is also on point with his recent tweets (see below and remember to read bottom up!) around Ballmer's comments on why Microhoo would be a winning proposition...
dannysullivan search engine for USERS not building just because microsoft decided it wants to sell ads. quote here http://snurl.com/7bcjm about 1 hour ago from twhirl
dannysullivan and yahoo can help deliver those, but not if you lose them in the brand mess and failure to fully understand you're building a friggin about 1 hour ago from twhirl
dannysullivan "relevant ads on our page." wow. more advertises mean more relevant ads? want more advertisers, get more visitors. that's the fundamental about 1 hour ago from twhirl
dannysullivan ballmer on "fundamental" reason why yahoo would be good for microsoft: "Together we would have more advertisers….which means we’d have more"... about 1 hour ago from twhirl