Microsoft wrestles with Kumo (well, with the name, anyway)

Courtesy of

05/03/2009 14:19:00 – by Martyn Warwick

The reality of the Semantic Web, the Holy Grail that Internet scientists and researchers worldwide have been seeking for at least the past ten years, is a little bit closer today with the news that Microsoft has confirmed it is testing Kumo, a new search engine based on semantic technology. If it works and becomes a commercial success our relationship with the world wide web will undergo a fundamental change – and Microsoft will be able to stick it to Google.

The Semantic Web is both an evolution and an extension of the Internet that will enable the web to understand and act on the relationships between words and the meanings of sentences, making it very much easier and more intuitive for people to search the web.

The notion of the Semantic Web is an extension of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Internet as a universal medium for the exchange of data, information and knowledge. Basically it is a set of design principles, collaborative working groups and various enabling technologies. Some elements of it already exist as formal specifications whilst others are still no more than glints in the eyes of optimistic scientists.

Despite its size and clout, Microsoft is a distant third in a global search market, currently dominated by Google. The Redmond, Washington State company doesn’t like to play second fiddle to anyone and likes the position as thirdstring even less.

That’s why Microsoft offered US$47.5 billion to buy Yahoo! in what turned out to be an abortive attempt to acquire the wherewithal to take on Google head-to-head. Microsoft has a mere 8.5 per cent of the online search engine market in the US, Yahoo! has 21 per cent and Google has 60 per cent. Even had the proposed purchase been successful, the combined Microsoft and Yahoo! would still have faced an enormous task in trying to compete meaningfully with Google and once he was knocked back, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, threw extra resources into designing Kumo.

The blogosphere has been rife with comment and speculation since an email about Kudo and written by Microsoft senior vice-president Satya Nadella was leaked. After initially playing down the significance of the memo, Microsoft later came clean and admitted that the email “is in fact accurate.”

In the leaked document Mr. Nadella says statistics show that those performing online searches all too often go away empty-handed and disappointed.

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Furthermore, he reveals that 50 per cent of all web searches take in excess of 20 minutes and even then there is no guarantee that the person searching has found what he or she is looking for. Nadella adds, “We believe we can provide a better and more useful search experience that helps you not just search but to accomplish tasks. During the test, [of Kumo] features will vary by country, but you’ll see results organised in a way that saves you a lot more time.”

By the way, “kumo” means either “spider” or “cloud” in Japanese, so the name does have some relevance to the Internet.

Despite being knocked-back by Yahoo!, Steve Ballmer, who was initially very angry at the rejection of what was, by any standards, a generous offer to acquire the company, having reflected on matters now says he would still be willing to buy Yahoo! – but at a considerably lower price than was offered the first time round.

Now that Jerry Yang has gone and Yahoo! has a new CEO, (Carol Bartz ex of Autodesk) and a new corporate structure, a sale to Microsoft could still be on the cards but work on Kumo goes ahead regardless.

Meanwhile, over at Google, and despite the recession and public outcry over big bonuses, four of the cookie monster’s top bods have just been awarded large wedges of dosh for overseeing only very modest growth in revenues which thr company has reported as mere one per cent. Google’s value has fallen by 56 per cent (that’s $120billion) in the past 12 months.

The bonus payments are hidden away in a mandatory filing to the US SEcurities ands Exchange Commission and ashow that Google’s head of products, Jonathan Rosenberg got $1.64 million, Omid Kordestani, the company’s best salesman got $1.38 million as did Alan Eustace, the chief engineer. The CFO, Patrick Pinchette, (a perfect name for an accountant) got $1.24 million.

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