Microsoft takes control of domain – watch out for the Live Search rebrand

A few months ago Mary Jo Foley got a tip about some new brand names that were being considered for Live Search. One of these, Kumo, jumped out at us due to the sheer scale of TLDs that had been acquired during 2008, as well as the corporate owner hiding anonymously behind the registrar. Incidentally, Kumo means “cloud” or “spider” in Japanese.

Fast forward to this week and Microsoft suddenly showed its hand. Control of the domain was moved from the registrar to Microsoft, and is now pointing to an internal Microsoft test site (employees only).

You can test this out at home by firing up the command prompt (type “cmd” in the Vista start box) and then type “tracert”. You’ll see the route to the end location go through a few servers, and then suddenly you’ll notice all those asterisks, which is where becomes available for internal use only.

We’re guessing that the internal sites are probably similar to the user interface testing versions that had screenshots leaked last month. These are used to run various permutations of the search UI to see how they perform against a control version. See pictures of the previously leaked testing versions below.

Of course new screenshots are welcome at our usual address: tips [at] liveside dot net

While Microsoft employees have admitted publicly that there are branding issues around Live Search, we’re not quite ready to stick our heads above the parapet and say that Kumo will be the new brand name to be announced in a 2009 update.

For a start Microsoft and search branding has been a mess for a while and so who outside the company knows where they will actually end up in 6 or 12 months from now.

Then there has been separate chatter about a rebrand back to Windows Live Search, which would tie the search engine back to the other Windows Live properties and Windows as a whole. Given the $300m ad campaign – Windows, Life Without Walls – seeks to link Windows + Live + Mobile together, this could make sense. However for the conspiracy theorists out there, which includes us, this could be one way of hiding the real new brand name internally.

Perhaps more importantly, a floundering Yahoo, minus Jerry Yang, really does offer some good acquisition incentives for Microsoft. How much should you pay for a few hundred million eyeballs that you hope will turn into search volume? Yahoo shares ended trading on Friday at $9.39, 70% down on the original Microsoft bid of $31 per share.

On a random aside, the first trademark request for Kumo as a search engine was filed by a Venezuelan individual. Yet another reason why this name might not ever make it out into the public eye on a Microsoft product.

So technical issues around results, relevancy and features aside, would Kumo make a better brand name than Live Search? Does Kumo have the potential marketing strength that is needed to challenge Google? We’re not sure, but hey these Live Search branding posts definitely give us food for thought.

For some background to this post, see Kip’s Codename Rome + new search brand posts from earlier this year, or Scoble’s video interview.

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