Confronted with Google's huge success in the world of Internet search, Microsoft has been busy developing a broad set of new online services.
Last week, the software giant launched a new search engine for scholars. This week, news has emerged that Microsoft's MSN Search division is working busily on a new "social" search service.
The new social search promises to produce more relevant results by incorporating preferences of like-minded Web surfers. The question-and-answer service should be ready for launch in the next few months.
While Microsoft has not revealed the name of the service, Justin Omer, MSN's senior product manager, told Business Week that it is "one of the larger projects" for the company this year.
In addition to readying the new social-search service, Microsoft is working on a search technology that will allow users to search the Internet with photographs taken by mobile-phone cameras.
Called Photo2Search, the upcoming service is designed to provide quick on-the-go access to information for those who use camera phones.
"As the old saying goes," said Xing Xie, a scientist in Microsoft's research division, "a picture is worth a thousand words."
According to Xie, the technology is designed to solve the problem of mapping an object in the physical world -- such as a restaurant or a landmark -- to information on the Internet.
Security and Privacy
While such a service might be incredibly useful to those tired of entering text-based queries on their mobile phones, some have their doubts. Internet expert Mukul Krishna, a Frost & Sullivan analyst, said Photo2Search has a lot of privacy and security implications.
What, asked Krishna, would stop a terrorist from snapping a picture of a landmark and easily getting information about it? Krishna said he anticipates that, just as Google Earth raised a lot of eyebrows in the security field, Photo2Search might be met with a similar reception.
And for private citizens, he said, the technology could prove problematic. For example, how would Microsoft prevent a pedophile from photographing a girl or boy at a mall, submitting the picture, then gaining extensive information from a MySpace profile?
But Krishna pointed out that, while the service might raise privacy issues, it also might be very well received. Those arriving late to a speech at a conference, for example, could simply take a picture of the presenter to quickly look up relevant background information.