Yahoo, Microsoft Gaining On Google

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Google Inc. remains the search leader, but its fierce competitors Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. are narrowing the gap through improvements in customer loyalty and perception in the quality of search results, a research firm said Thursday.

In a study of 2000 web users, Keynote Systems Inc. found significant improvements in consumers’ experience with the search engines on Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s web portals, while the rankings of Google’s site remained statistically flat. The San Mateo, Calif., company compared its finding with a similar study it conducted in June of last year.

Google, however, remained the “king of customer experience,” Keynote analyst Bonny Brown said. “They meet the customers’ needs, and customers are most satisfied across the board with Google.”

But that doesn’t mean the king can’t be dethroned. Both Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN portal gained in two key areas studied by Keynote, which are the likelihood that users would return to the sites for search and that they’d consider them in the future for their primary search engines.

The percentage of users saying they’d return were 81 percent for Yahoo, 61 percent for Microsoft and 92 percent for Google. In June, the numbers were 72 percent, 55 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

For consideration as their primary search engine, Yahoo won over 61 percent of the users; Microsoft, 38 percent; and Google, 84 percent. In June, the numbers were 50 percent, 30 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Yahoo’s gains were linked to its local search capabilities, which have undergone significant improvements over the last six months, Brown said. Local search, in general, is an area that draws the most complaints from consumers, who often find that the results don’t match their needs.

“It’s an area where search engines can improve, and Yahoo made some gains here,” Brown said.

Microsoft, on the other hand, improved the perceived quality of its search results, which was linked to the company’s decision to clearly separate sponsored links from general search results, Brown said.

Google, however, remains at the top of the heap because users believe the quality of its search results remain the highest in the industry, Brown said. Perceived quality of results continues to be the most important reason why consumers use a particular site.

“Google scores highest in general search quality,” Brown said. “The perceived quality is what drives people to use the site.”

In terms of overall ranking, Google was No. 1 in the study, Yahoo was second and Microsoft was third. Ask Jeeves and Lycos were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Source: Information Week

Microsoft Research To Open Research Lab in India

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Microsoft Research, Microsoft Corp.’s 13-year-old basic research arm, announced that it has selected Bangalore, India, as the location for its third research facility outside the United States. Microsoft Research Lab India Private Ltd., scheduled to open in January 2005, plans to employ about two dozen scientists, interns and support staff in the first year. The Bangalore lab joins Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash.; San Francisco; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; and Beijing labs in bringing together great minds to build a world-class global research organization with more than 700 scientists on staff. P. Anandan, an internationally renowned researcher in computer vision and video analysis and a seven-year veteran of Microsoft Research in Redmond, will lead Microsoft Research India.

EBay to Increase Fees, Angering Sellers

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Some small business owners who reach most of their customers via eBay Inc. expressed anger Thursday at the online auction giant’s plan to boost the monthly fee it charges sellers by 60 percent. Its shares lost nearly 4 percent.

EBay outlined the increase in a terse e-mail on Wednesday to all buyers and sellers, including small business owners who hawk clothing, electronics and other low-margin commodities.

“It seems as though the larger eBay becomes, the more greedy they become,” said Lynette McDonald of Alton, Ill., who has sold Barbie and baby clothes on eBay since 2001. She says she may close her eBay store entirely because of the fee hikes or raise prices she changes buyers.

Starting Feb. 18, eBay said the monthly subscription fee for people who operate “Basic eBay Stores” will increase from $9.95 to $15.95.

The fee for a standard listing of 10 days will double, from 20 cents to 40 cents.

Source: AP

MP3 Goes Surround 5.1

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

The file format that inspired millions of downloads hopes to inspire music fans to do something else: buy more speakers. Now officially released by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS and Thomson, coinventors of the MP3 format, the new MP3 Surround supports 5.1 multichannel sound.

“We asked ourselves, where can music go?” explains Henri Linde, Thomson’s vice president of new business, intellectual property, and licensing. “It seemed that surround sound was the logical evolution for us.” To encourage people to exploit the multichannel advantages of the new file format, free MP3 Surround encoders will be available until the end of 2005. After that, the encoders will be subject to typical licensing fees.

Software to play MP3 Surround tracks in all their multichannel glory will remain free of charge, and the files will be backward compatible with existing MP3 players. Older players, however, will play back the files as conventional stereo tracks. Consumers will have to purchase new MP3 players and CD players if they want to decode the full MP3 Surround experience. Thomson officials claim that the encoding technology, developed by Agere Systems, increases MP3 files sizes only “marginally.”

Source: PC Magazine

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