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TechWeek: Microsoft Searches for Traction

Call it the Xerox (XRX - Get Report) effect. When your competitor's product is so well known it becomes a verb (as in "please Xerox that article for me"), you know you're in trouble.

Nowhere is that truer than in the world of Web searches. After all, users trolling the vastness of the Web will invariably say "I'm going to Google that" no matter which search engine they actual use. Ever heard someone say "I'm going to MSN that?"

Attempting to knock Google (GOOG - Get Report) off its throne is the job of Susan Dumais of Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) Research division, who this week presented three papers at a conference on information retrieval at the University of Washington hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery.

"It is astounding that we can find anything at all on the Internet -- it contains 20 billion pages," says Dumais, who carries the title of principal researcher and is one of the dozens of Microsoft researches focused on search technology.

It's one thing, she says, to know that a user clicks on a page during a search. But it's much more useful to find out how long he or she lingered and what they did next. Did they print it or save it or simply move on?

"It's not just about a little rectangle on the screen," she said in a telephone interview during the conference.
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