Microsoft seeks mashups for Live Search

Software vendor hopes outside developers will help end its also-ran search status

Microsoft hopes that taking a page out of its old playbook can help the company cut into Google's thus-far insurmountable lead in the search market.

Microsoft plans to ramp up its efforts to encourage Web developers and other programmers to create mashups -- quickly assembled Web-based programs gluing together different data and technology sources -- that leverage the software vendor's search technology, including its flagship Windows Live Search engine and its Virtual Earth mapping and location service.

The company got the ball rolling at its 2007 MVP Global Summit in Seattle on Tuesday, inviting attendees from the ranks of its Most Valuable Professional program to write mashup applications together during an afternoon-long event.

Microsoft's overall market dominance has long been credited in large part to its success at wooing outside programmers to write software bolstering Windows and its other products.

But in the Web 2.0 market, Microsoft lags behind rivals such as Google because it has been less successful at encouraging the development of mashups using its application programming interfaces (API), acknowledged Jonathan Pincus, general manager of strategy development for Microsoft's online services group.

Pincus said he thinks that by publicizing the company's various open APIs and offering third-party developers technical support as well as help in coming up with ways for them to make money via advertising or value-added services, Microsoft can make Live Search as attractive a development platform as Windows and Office are.

In Microsoft's vision, the resulting mashups would become ancillary services that augment Live Search's core features and help the search engine provide better results to users. "There are many ways to find the answer to a question besides simply searching for it," Pincus said.

For instance, during an internal "Mashup Day" brainstorming event last fall, a Microsoft employee proposed combining the company's database of 120 million Windows Live Spaces users with Live Search so that users of the search engine could also pose their queries to people on the Live Spaces social networking site who have opted in to sharing their expertise.

Pincus said Microsoft developers have created a "search macro" mashup that lets users search only the content of their favorite and most trusted Web sites. Another internally developed mashup overlays one map on top of a second one so users can see how bike trails in Seattle intersect with bus routes.

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