The Redmond, Wash., software maker next week is releasing at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles several application programming interfaces that begin the process of turning MSN's search capabilities into a development platform.
"For us, this is certainly a first step, and we want to do a lot more," Justin Osmer, product manager for MSN Search, said Friday.
APIs are packets of code that a programmer can drop into an application to call a function in another computer system across the Internet. For Internet portals, such as Google, MSN and Yahoo, getting their search services in third-party applications could, in time, broaden their network for online advertisers.
Microsoft plans to release at the PDC the MSN Search Web Services API, the MSN Messenger Activity API and an API for its MSN Virtual Earth mapping and search service. In addition, the company plans to announce version four of its MapPoint location-based service.
Google and Yahoo have aggressively pursued developers for quite awhile with APIs to their search capabilities. In addition, both companies are far ahead of MSN in the search market. Market-leading Google ended the second quarter with 37 percent of all search queries on the web, while Yahoo was second at 30.4 percent, according to web metrics firm ComScore Networks. Microsoft, on the other hand, was a distant third at 15.6 percent.
Nevertheless, Microsoft is confident it can close the gap, and is looking to developers for assistance. The company has done well in the developer community for years, and sells the industry's most popular tools. The company says it has more than 6 million Visual Studio developers worldwide.
"We know how to work in the developer world, so we in no way see ourselves as catching up," Osmer said.
The MSN Search API would enable a developer to build an application that would use Microsoft's technology to search a website's database. Microsoft is making the technology available for noncommercial use, and caps its capabilities at 10,000 queries a day, returning a maximum of 50 results per query.
The MSN Messenger API lets people view information while having a conversation on the instant-messaging service. For example, an application could let two people chatting about meeting at a restaurant see a window with driving instructions or a roadmap. A translator application, as another example, could translate a conversation between two people from different countries.
The API for Virtual Earth, which is in beta, would let developers embed the service into an application. The API is available at no charge, even for commercial use. The only requirement is that developers use VE's local search capabilities, Trina Seinfeld, lead product manager for MapPoint, said. While third-party applications don't have to carry advertising from MSN, a shared-revenue option is available.
Virtual Earth, which competes with Google Earth, provides satellite views of most locations in the world. Many of the places can also be overlaid with roadmaps. The services are also integrated with local search for finding businesses and services in cities and towns.
MapPoint 4.0 enables developers to define customer territories for services. For example, a call center for a pizza-delivery service could break up a city into delivery zones for dispatching drivers, Seinfeld said. In addition, there are new tools for more customized roadmaps and the service has been expanded to cover New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.
MapPoint, which is embedded in commercial applications as a locator tool, is available only by subscription.
Details on the new APIs are scheduled to be available by Tuesday morning on Microsoft's new MSN Developer Center.