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MSN Search

Review of MSN Search

Last updated Apr. 16, 2004.
by Greg R.

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MSN Search is one of the search engine for the MSN portal site. It uses an Inktomi database. The basic search screen only shows a few options, but by choosing the Advanced Search link, the full range of search features is displayed. This review discusses the full set of options, some of which are only available in the Advanced Search. Use the table of contents on the left to navigate this review.

Databases: MSN Search uses LookSmart for its directory and Inktomi for its search engine database. Its sponsored sites (ads) are from Overture. MSN Featured Sites and Directory results come first from the basic search screen. The Advanced Search only displays Inktomi results. Before Sept. 2002, is used to include a link to Direct Hit results. In the Featured Sites section, results may come from MSN destination sites, MSN Encarta, and/or MSN ad partners. Note that MSN will not retrieve adult content, and that searches on terms such as 'sex' will give no results but will link to an adult search engine.

  * One of the largest Inktomi databases
  * Page depth limit
  * Advanced search capabilities

  * Link searches must be exact
  * Inconsistent availability of truncation
  * No cached archive

Default Operation:
Multiple search terms are processed as an AND operation by default.

Boolean Searching: MSN Search offers full Boolean searching in the Advanced Search. After choosing 'Boolean phrase' from the drop down menu, MSN Search supports Boolean searching with the operators AND, OR, and NOT. Either AND NOT or NOT can be used. Searching can be nested using parentheses. Operators must be in upper case. MSN Search can also use - for NOT. The Advanced Search has a drop down menu choice for All the Words or Any of the Words. Also, in the Advanced Search, additional search boxes can be used to add additional terms or combining a phrase search with a Boolean search.

Proximity Searching: Phrase searching can be designated by double quotes "" around a search phrase. The drop down menu choice in the Advanced Search includes an option for a phrase search.

Truncation: Like other Inktomi partners, MSN sometimes had truncation capabilities. When it worked, the truncation symbol * could be used as end truncation or internal. It used to have to be preceded by at least two characters. Unfortunately, since May 2001 the truncation has stopped working. In the Advanced Search, 'word stemming' can be enabled. This is not truncation but rather a search for grammatical word variants (for English words) including plural, singular, and tense. Note that if the truncation symbol starts working again, it cannot be used within a field search.

Case Sensitivity: Apparently not as of April 2004. Previously, MSN Search was case sensitive for unusual usages of case. If search terms are entered in all lower case, all upper case, or with an initial capital, all mixtures of upper and lower case are searched. If a search term contained one or more UPPER case letters in the middle of a word such as arXiv, the search was limited to only records that exactly match the specified case.

Field Searching: MSN Search offers a variety of field searching capabilities. The drop down menu includes options for searching title words and links to a specific URL. The latter must be a complete URL, and not just a portion of one. The title word search can also be entered in the query box by using the title:word syntax. Other field searches are possible using the designations listed below. Since MSN Help does not have a list, the following comes from HotBot's old Meta Word section of their old help page. Most of these also work at MSN, and most are just the language behind features available via the advanced search form.

title: Hits have the term in the HTML title element. Only a single word can be searched this way. Use the drop down option to search multiple title words. title:showdown
domain:For domains up to three levels deep.
feature:acrobat Detects Acrobat files
feature:applet Detects embedded Java applets
feature:activex Detects ActiveX controls or layouts
feature:audio Detects presence of several audio formats
feature:embed Detects plugins
feature:flash Detects the Flash plugin in HTML
feature:form Detects the use of forms in HTML
feature:frame Detects the use of frames
feature:image Detects presence of gif, jpg, and other image files
feature:script Detects embedded scripts
feature:shockwave Detects Shockwave files
feature:table Detects the use of tables in HTML
feature:video Detects a range of video formats
feature:vrml Detects VRML files
linkdomain: Limits to pages containing links to the specified domain.
outgoingurlext: Limits to pages containing embedded files with the specified extension. outgoingurlext:ra
scriptlanguage: Limits to pages containing JavaScript or VBScript. (Enter in lowercase.) scriptlanguage:vbscript

Limits: In the advanced search, there are a number of limit options available.

  • Contain Media Type: MSN searches can be limited to pages that contain a link to or an embedded special media type, such as Java, Shockwave, VRML, Acrobat, or Audio. There is even an option for user-defined media types based on file name extensions..
  • File Type: Limits results to specific file types: HTML,  PDF, PowerPoint, Word, or Excel. Default includes all these file types.
  • Domain: Searches can be limited by location/domain.
  • Document Directory Depth: MSN has the unique limit of Document Directory Depth which has a default of any and options for 1 though 5. These refer to how far down a subdirectory hierarchy to look. A depth of 1 will find only pages in the root directory of a Web server (for example, or A depth of 3 would find URLs like and ones with less slashes.
  • Language Limits: for Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.

Stop Words: MSN will not search single stop words like 'the' or 'an' but within a search such as 'to be or not to be' and even 'the the' the terms will be searched.

Sorting: Results are sorted by relevance. The advanced search give an option to "Show one result per domain" although even without that checked, only a limited number of results per domain will be displayed. Unique among the Inktomi group, the MSN advanced search also provides an option to sort "equally relevant results" by date, depth, or title. Note that this will only sort those records which have the exact same relevance ranking score.

The display includes the title, a brief summary, and the URL. MSN Search displays 15 records at a time, by default. However, users can request displays of 10, 15, 20, or 50 records at a time in the advanced search or changed through the preferences. The advanced search also has an option to exclude the summary.

Unusual Search Feature: To do a search using just some advanced features without a search term, just put a punctuation mark in the search box. For example, to search for all Finnish language pages with an edu domain that contain an audio file, select those three options on the advanced search page. If you just click the search button, a JavaScript box will pop up asking you to enter a search term. Put in a . , * or similar punctuation mark, and the search will run even though the punctuation mark is ignored. At least this works as of May 2003.

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