Adding more factors to Microsoft’s sliders

Ever use MSN’s sliders? Do you know about MSN’s sliders? If they changed, would you notice?

I’m not sure that I would.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about feature based rankings at MSN. Rather than describing how understanding feature based ranking (or fRank) might help when optimizing a site for an MSN search, I focused upon some of the different categories that those features might fall into.

While those might be used in the future, or may even be used to help rank pages in a normal search on MSN now, there’s possibly another use for them, too.

In the future, we might see some of those features and categories appear in a different context, where the person searching has some control over which of those are most important to him or her. Another new patent application from Microsoft describes how. We can see some of that context in a somewhat obscure part of MSN’s search.

Microsoft’s search builder

Some of the options present in an MSN search are available through a link under the search box at MSN search. This isn’t a new feature, but it’s hidden well enough that many users of the site might not be familiar with it. The link is labeled “+Search Builder,” and if you click upon it, it expands to a number of menu options:

  • Search terms
  • Site/Domain
  • Links to
  • Country/Region
  • Language
  • Results ranking

Upon clicking that last one, results ranking, you will see three sliders, which allow some control over search results. The first lets you choose between “Updated recently” and “Static.” The second is a continuum between “Very popular” and “Less popular.” The final one offers a range between “Approximate match” and “Exact match.”

Freshness, link popularity, and relevance

The help section (no longer available) for these sliders explains them in a little more detail.

The first slider focuses upon the freshness aspect of MSN’s ranking algorithm, allowing a choice between newer sites and older ones.

The second slider looks at link popularity, with more popular sites being defined by having more links pointing towards them, and less popular sites having less incoming links.

The third can make freshness and popularity matter more (approximate match) or less (exact match.) When those matter less, relevance matters more.

While these are fairly broad aspects of how MSN might rank pages and return results, it’s interesting looking at how moving these sliders around can change which pages are returned in response to a search.

Adding more user controlled factors

Imagine having even more control over which pages are returned in response to a query. This new patent application adds the possibility of controlling a number of other factors.

According to the document, these may be accessed and changed by “an equalizer-style arrangement of sliders for the various parameters or by using a form with checkboxes.” Here are some of the potentially new-user determined factors to control search results:

  • Weighing of terms – such as query terms, or even terms that are returned as part of the results, can be weighed by the searcher as being more or less important.
  • Query dependent factors – such as the location of those terms (title, body, URL, etc.) could also be manipulated by a searcher.
  • Query-independent factors – could also be under the control of a searcher, including such things “as the length of a URL, age of a document, or file type.”
  • A mix of query dependent, and query independent features, and weighing of terms could also be used.
  • Structured data, found while searching structured fields, like those found in XML or meta data, could also be determined by the searcher to be important.

The patent application also allows for the sharing of these personalization factors with others.

System and method for controlling ranking of pages returned by a search engine
Inventors: Ramez Naam, Darren A. Shakib, and Nicole A. Hamilton
Assigned to Microsoft Corporation
US Patent Application 20060074864
Published April 6, 2006
Filed: September 24, 2004


A system and method are provided for implementing a search engine to output search results scored for a particular user. The method includes receiving a set of input user search terms and accessing a set of input user preferences. The method additionally includes obtaining scored search results based on the set of search terms and the set of input user preferences. A method is additionally provided for sharing user search preferences for input to a search engine. The method includes storing a set of input user preferences. The input user preferences provide criteria for a search engine to perform ranking of a set of search results. The method additionally includes providing an access mechanism for allowing access to the stored set of input user preferences by a third party.

I’m wondering how often people would use the types of controls described in this document. I’d also really like to know how much the three sliders in the “results ranking” section of the “Search Builder” are used now. They seem to be hidden away pretty well.

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