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MSN's Newsbot Unleashed

First came MSNbot, Microsoft's Web-spidering content bot that is part of its new MSN search initiative. Now, MSN is powering its media partner MSNBC's beta test of Newsbot, a customized search-driven news service.

MSN's Newsbot service for MSNBC (a television and online joint venture of NBC and Microsoft) gathers stories from more than 4,800 news sources and offers a number of customized features. It helps gather headlines in seven categories: U.S. and world news, sports, entertainment, business, science and health, and technology.

In addition to the typical listings of news stories, Newsbot keeps a history of your news search and makes recommendations based on them for other items of interest. As with a typical personalized portal approach, a user will get a personalized news section as well, in Newsbot's case called "The Daily Me."

"We've put the strongest assets of MSN and NBC News to work for consumers with MSNBC.com Newsbot, the only automatically personalized news-search service on the Web," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of MSN Information Services and Merchant Platform, in a statement. "By providing a variety of ways to personalize the service, people have more control over how and where they get their news -- control they can't get anywhere else on the Web, which we're confident will convince people to return every day, much like a neighborhood newsstand."

The beta release is the latest among MSN's search initiatives as it ramps up its arsenal against current industry leaders Google and Yahoo.

Google claims to index over 4,500 active news sources. Yahoo's 2.0 news search claims over 7,000 sources. A January 2004 Nielsen NetRatings survey reported that Yahoo News had 19.8 million visitors per month and Google News had 4.1 million.

The numbers trend higher if one extrapolates from other surveys that measure online habits in the United States. According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study, 92 million Americans (approximately 72 percent of Internet users) go online to find news. On any particular day, approximately 27 percent of American Internet users are looking for news, the study said.

Microsoft has been actively ramping up its search engine offering lately. This month, Redmond revealed some of the results of its $100 million commitment to search. The effort is for the most part focused on a new MSNsearch portal and related technologies. Also in July, Microsoft acquired Lookout Software in order to extend search to its Outlook e-mail client.