Clustering Search (yet again)

Microsoft is rolling an internal test for a search experience upgrade on Live (codenamed Kumo) that clusters search results by aspect. See internal memo and screenshots covered by Kara Swisher.

As usual, the immediate reaction is – regardless of the actual change, how feasible is it to assume you could make users switch from their Google habit? but let’s try to put that aside and do look at the actual change.

Search results are grouped into clusters based on the aspects of this particular search query. This idea is far from being new, and was attempted in the past by both Vivisimo (at Clusty.com) and by Ask.com. One difference, though, is that Microsoft pushes the aspects further into the experience, by showing a long page of results with several top results from each aspect (similar to Google’s push with spelling mistakes).

At least judging by the (possibly engineered) sample results, the clustering works better than previous attempts. Most search engines take the “related queries” twist on this, while Kumo includes related queries as a separate widget:

kumo-comparisonClusty.com’s  resulting clusters, on the other hand, are far from useful for a serious searcher with enquire/purchase intent.

At least based on these screenshots, it seems like Microsoft succeeded in distilling interesting aspects better, while maintaining useful labels (e.g. “reviews”). Of course, it’s possible this is all done as a “toy”, limited example, e.g. using some predefined ontology. But together with other efforts, such as the “Cashback” push and the excellent product search (including reviews aggregation and sentiment analysis), it seems like Microsoft may be in the process of  positioning Live as the search engine for ecommerce. Surely a good niche to be in…

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