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MSN Search

Review of MSN Search

Last updated Mar. 13, 2005.
by Greg R.

For News

See MSN News Stories

 

MSN Search is the search engine for the MSN portal site. For years it had used databases from other vendors including Inktomi, LookSmart, and Direct Hit. As of Feb. 1, 2005, it began using its own, unique database. See the review of Old MSN Search to see how it used to work. Use the table of contents on the left to navigate this review.

Databases: MSN Search uses its own Web database and also has separate News, Images, and Local databases along with links into Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia content. Text ads, currently from Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions (formerly known as Overture).

Strengths:
  * Large, unique database
  * Query building "Search Builder" and Boolean searching
  * Cached copies of Web pages including date cached
  * Automatic local search options.

Weaknesses:
  * Limited advanced features
  * Inconsistent availability of truncation
  * No title search, truncation, stemming,

Default Operation:
Multiple search terms are processed as an AND operation by default.

Boolean Searching: MSN Search offers full Boolean searching, although the AND is not needed since it is the default operation. MSN Search supports Boolean operators AND (or the ampersand symbol &), OR (or the pipe symbol |), and NOT. Either AND NOT or NOT can be used. Operators must be in upper case unless symbols are used. Searching can be nested using parentheses. MSN Search can also use - for NOT, but there must be no space between the - and the query term. The plus symbol + seems to make no difference unless used in front of a stop word. The Search Builder includes options for has a drop down menu choice for All of these Term, Any of these Terms, and None of these Terms.

Proximity Searching: Phrase searching can be designated by double quotes "" around a search phrase. There is also an "exact phrase" option in the Search Builder under Search Terms.

Truncation: No known truncation, stemming, or wild card word in a phrase capabilities exist. 

Case Sensitivity: MSN Search has no case sensitive searching. Using either lower or upper case results in the same hits.

Field Searching: MSN Search has several field searching capabilities, but it does not have a title search, one of the most common options elsewhere. The Search Builder helps to use these, or just use the syntax below. All these field searches can be combined with other terms and other field searches except for url:.

Field Explanation
site: Limit to specific site(s) or domain(s). site:dept.stateu.edu or site:name.com. Can include http:// but not paths.
language: Invokes the language limit when followed by the two letter language code as in language:en
loc: or location: Specifies a country or region using two character country or region codes as in loc:au
link: Finds pages linked to the given URL. Can include http://, and the results are usually the same with or without an initial www. link:name.com/path
url: Finds if the given URL is in the database. Can include http:// or not. url:name.com

Limits: In the Search Builder, there are a number of limit options available.

  • Site/Domain: Searches can be limited by location/domain or can exclude a specific domain.
  • Location: MSN can limit by country and/or region. This is more than just a top level domain limit. For example, limiting to Switzerland found some site with the top level domain of .ch (for Switzerland) along with some .com sites that are located in Switzerland. Only 22 are listed in Search Builder and on the country or region codes page, but other country top level domains can be used with the loc: field search or the site: field search.
  • File Type: Limits results to specific file types: HTML,  PDF, PowerPoint, Word, or Excel. Default includes all these file types.
  • Language Limits: 12 language limits as of March 2005: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. Use the "settings" link to search several at once.
  • Only available in the "settings" page, there is a Safe Search limit for excluding sexually explicit content. By default, it is automatically set to exclude sexually explicit images but not text.

Stop Words: MSN will search single stop words like 'the' or 'an', and it will search them within a "phrase search." However, it will ignore stop words if there are other non-stop-word terms unless a + is put in front of the stop word. Look to see which of the small words are shown in the KWIC extracts to see which are being searched.

Sorting: Results are sorted by relevance. The Search Builder Results Ranking section has three sliders that users can adjust to change the ranking. The three sliders are for updated recently vs. static, very popular vs. less popular, and approximate match vs. exact match.

Display: The display includes the title, a brief keyword-in-context (KWIC) display, the URL, and a link to the cached copy of the page. A date is sometimes displayed to the right of the cache link when that page has been updated in the MSN database recently. MSN Search displays 10 records at a time, by default. However, users can request displays of 10, 15, 30, or 50 records at a time through the settings. By default, it shows only two results per site, but in the settings under Group Results from the Same Site, it can be turn off or changed to one or three. However, on many searches, especially when set to only one result per site and with only 10 results at a time, there is no "Show more results from . . . " link to see the additional results from a specific site.

Unusual Search Feature: MSN Search automatically tries to identify a user's location for the local search. The location can also be changed by the user through the "settings" link. Then, clicking the "Near Me" button next to the "Search" button runs a local search based on the default location.

Documentation:
Help Files
Keyword and Symbol Reference

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