MSN search using RSS

In the “That’s cool but what’s the use” category, a new entry from MSN.

In order to perform this experiment there are a few prerequisites; A news aggregator or a browser that supports reading feeds, or some other way of reading an XML or RSS feed. I use Firefox with Sage.

I will demonstrate how to do this using Firefox with Sage merely because I am most comfortable with it.

So, once you have Firefox and Sage installed, open Sage, and then what you need to do is go to MSN and perform a search. When you see the results, click on the feed discovery button in Sage (it’s the magnifying glass). Within a few seconds you will see that you can get the same search results page served in XML. Highlight the feed and add it. Now if you go into Sage, and click on the feed you will see the exact same results as would be displayed on MSN search.

What that means is that you can now create custom feeds based around MSN search results. And this leads to the obvious question: “That’s cool but what’s the use?”

Well, there could be many uses. First, you can “bookmark” searches, and watch results change as it happens (almost).

For example, I imported a search for “New York apartments” into Sage news reader and it seems that every ½ hour or so the result change. I’m not sure what this means (yet) but it does show the possibilities of such a resource. At this point I will note that it is only organic results that are displayed and not paid.

So why would MSN make its search results so publicly available? It used to be that automated tools like rank checking software would have to scrape search engine results pages to get the results. Instead, now all they have to do is create the feed URL and import the results into the software.

Well, there could be numerous possibilities. For example, did you know that you can open an XML document in Excel? Just so you know, I did try to open the RSS search results in Excel and it did work – I was able to see the top 10 results in Excel. Excel also has a handy “refresh XML feed” option so that you have current results.

But this is only the beginning. Now anyone writing software can import said results into the software, including Microsoft. Rather than writing an API that requires a key, like Google, the MSN results are freely available.

I would expect that, in the not too distant future, you will see MSN desktop search results coupled with web search results. This format of supplying results gets MSN past the privacy issues that Google has had to deal with because of its desktop search product.

The difference here will be that MSN desktop search can pull XML results from MSN search and reformat them (using local style settings) to appear as local results. This is quite the opposite from the way Google would push desktop results onto web search results. Pulling web results rather than pushing desktop results is much more private, and less open to hijacking.

It also leaves the door open for Microsoft to offer more customized search results as all search results could effectively be pushed to users via RSS. Whether it is a product search or a news search, or even a media search, results could be pushed via a reader such as Sage so that when results change you are aware of them.

It also shows Microsoft’s commitment to RSS. Even though they are late getting into the feed game, they have added the ability to search for feeds and place them on your My MSN home page, although it doesn’t appear that you can currently add search results feeds to your home page. (What is interesting though is that I can add an MSN search results RSS feed to MyYahoo).

As I sit and think about it, there could be many potential uses for getting MSN search results in a feed. If your site is highly ranked, you could re-display the results on your site (“Look we are ranked #1!”).

Conversely, the feeds could be used on other sources like blogs, where blog owners could display results of their favorite searches.

Really, there are many potential uses for the feeds, in addition to providing easy integration to current and future products, both Microsoft and non-Microsoft, as well as other online opportunities.

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