Microsoft & Search

Some days you have to wonder what is happening at Microsoft around search, they say they are serious about search, yet they seem to gut themselves before they even get out of the starting gate.

I have just read two articles published in the wake of Christopher Payne leaging over at Search Engine Land (article 1 and article 2.)

The tone of these articles suggest that search at Microsoft is viewed as a side-show to the main business of selling Windows and Office. This really makes sense, Microsoft is big and I am sure that search is a very small portion of the total revenues that go to make the bottom line. What does not make sense is that such a small division does not appear to be given enough autonomy to operate on its own against outside competition, so has to deal with internal contrainsts (management in this case) as well as the external competition.

This is not new, I have seen this in other companies I have worked with and for.

The answer is to give these smaller divisions the autonomy they needs to operate nimbly and compete effectively against the external competition, otherwise you are just setting yourself up for failure.

If I were in charge of search at Microsoft, I would do the following:

  • Break out from under the mothership, create a new company with enough cash to keep it going for a while, say a year or two, just like a VC funded startup.
  • Give that company free reign at both a tactical level and a strategic level. This means the freedom to choose what the UI looks like, what technologies to keep, dump and buy, what business partnerships to set up and tear down, … You get the picture.
  • Get fresh blood at all levels, to get away from the group-think that invariably reigns at large companies. A few years back Microsoft invited A-list bloggers to provide feedback on search (a really good idea), but the comments I heard back from a few of these bloggers were that the Microsoft employees were too droid like, lacked creative spark, and were too unwilling to take risks.

One final note, a few years ago I was approached by a recruiter for a position at Microsoft search. In the conversation that ensued, I decided that I would not be a fit for various reasons (the recruitement was not handled in the best of manners), so I stayed at Feedster.

Maybe it is time to revisit that, are you listening Microsoft?

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