By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 6:52 pm
It’s tough being Microsoft’s search engine. Life is great for Google; Yahoo, for all its problems, is very popular and has fantastic name recognition; Ask.com is a little guy (comparatively!) with some neat features. But Microsoft’s search offering’s woes begin with the fact that it’s hard to remember what it’s called. It began its life as part of MSN, morphed into Windows Live Search, and is now known as just Live Search. I think–the logo still has the Windows window graphic in it, and it lives at Live.com, not LiveSearch.com. (Quick, name me another major Web site whose name and URL aren’t the same.)
It’s hard, in fact, to think of any distinguishing characteristic that Live Search sports, with the exception of its odd and cheesy Cashback pay-to-search feature, which smacks of desperation as much as it does innovation.
Which is probably one reason why Live Search launched a very, very unusual home page redesign today. The Live Search page used to be a spare, faux Google one. Today? It’s dominated by an attractive photo of some people in a canoe in Botswana:
The image has a bunch of hotspots; hover over one, and a bit of text pops up:
Each text snippet has a link to information on Live Search, such as Web results, videos, or images.
The idea is a trifle bizarre, but the basic goal as outlined at Microsoft’s Live Search blog is clear enough: They’d like to show folks who show up to search some of the diversity of the stuff that’s there: “We want the page to be a great place to start a search and also to intrigue and inform as well.”
My first impulse was to dislike all this. In theory, it should be a distraction that gets in the way you finding whatever you showed up at Live Search to look for–unless you arrived looking for information about Botswana. It’s probably annoying if you’re on a slow dial-up line (the blog post says that dial-uppers may notice the image and hotspots popping into place; on my fast cable line, they were zippy enough). The whole idea flies in the face of umpteen theories of good Web design.
But…I kind of like it. At the very least, you gotta give Microsoft credit for trying something so idiosyncratic and utterly un-Google-esque.
The big question is: How often will the images and hotspots change? (If I see the Botswana scene more than a couple more times, I hereby retract the nice things I just said.) The blog post says that the images will change “regularly.” Whether that means a few times a day, a few times a week, or a few times a month I can’t say. I do know that this feature would be a lot cooler if I could cycle through images and hotspots at will–but as far as I can tell, there’s no way to do that…