Microsoft releases new API for Windows Live Search

Microsoft Corp. Thursday unveiled a revamped Live Search API that developers can use to embed search on Web sites with more support for frequently used Web development technologies and less restrictions on how third parties use the technology on their Web sites.

Project Silkroad is an application programming interface for Live Search that supports a broad range of open Web protocols and technologies used to build Web sites, including RSS, JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), REST (Representational State Transfer) and XML, said Angus Norton, a senior director of Live Search at Microsoft.

Microsoft also is releasing third parties from previous restrictions on how they use the API, he said. There are no limits to the amount of queries sites can make, and site developers can rank content how they want. Developers also can syndicate Microsoft's image search, news search and phone book search and have "complete control within their site," Norton said.

Third parties using the Silkroad API also aren't required to run Microsoft Live Search ads on their sites, he said. However, if they do, they will receive revenue from a standard revenue-sharing agreement Microsoft has with search partners.

Developers can join a pilot program to start using the new API on the Live Search developer site.

Microsoft's Live Search is third behind Google and Yahoo, and the new API is aimed at getting more third parties to use Microsoft's search engine to power their Web sites, Norton said, acknowledging that "there aren't many" sites using Live Search now.

He called Microsoft's decision to open its API and release restrictions a way of "democratizing the [search] platform" in the same way it has allowed developers to successfully use Windows and other Microsoft software as foundational technologies in the past.

In other search news, Microsoft also on Thursday provided an update on its Cashback program, another way the company is trying to get more people to use Live Search. Microsoft launched the program in May as a way to give consumers discounts for products purchased online if they discover those products using Live Search.

Microsoft has added Macy's and Nordstrom to the list of 20 U.S. online retailers participating in Cashback, Norton said. Retailers also said the program is gaining a lot of traction among people purchasing from their sites, he said.

For example, Norton said eBay is reporting that it is converting sales 50% more if users discover a product via Live Search Cashback than if they don't. Another company working with Microsoft, ShoeMall, said its sales through Live Search Cashback are six times better than standard sales.

Susan Feldman, vice president for search and discovery technologies at IDC, said that as search query growth is flattening, it is going to become more important for search companies to work with affiliate networks as Cashback does.

"Being able to bring in affiliate sites where they can put their own ads [on the sites] is certainly going to bring money in," she said, adding that she's surprised search providers didn't think of a program like Cashback even earlier than Microsoft did.

As for not requiring third parties to use Live Search ads if they use the new API, Feldman said it's a good idea especially for a company like Microsoft that is trying to catch up to competitors.

"They do want people to use them and get to know them," she said. "Google certainly has such momentum in the market, that being able to at least make some inroads in terms of people trying them out is probably a good idea."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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