Microsoft’s Browser Rank

July 26, 2008

I heard about Browser Rank a while ago. My take on the technology is a bit different from that of the experts, wizards, and pundits stressing the upside of the approach. To get the received “wisdom”, you will want to review these analyses of this technology:

  • Microsoft’s own summary of the technology here. The full paper is here. (Note: I have discovered that certain papers are no longer available from; for example, the DNABlueprint document. Snag this document in a sprightly manner.)
  • Steve Shankland’s write up for CNet here. The diagram is a nice addition to the article.
  • Arnold Zafra’s description for Search Engine Journal here.

By the time you read this, there will dozens of commentaries.

Here’s my take:

Microsoft has asserted that it has more than 20 billion pages in its index. However, indexing resources are tight, so Microsoft has been working to find ways to know exactly which pages to index and reindex without spidering the bulk of the Web pages each time. The answer is to let user behavior generate a short list of what must get indexed. The idea is to get maximum payoff from minimal indexing effort.

This is pretty standard practice. Most systems have a short list of “must index” frequently links. There is a vast middle ground which gets pinged and updated on a cycle; for example, every 30 days. Then there are sites like the Railway Retirement Board, which gets indexed on a relaxed schedule, which could be never.

Microsoft’s approach is to take a bunch of factors that can be snagged by monitoring user behavior and use these data to generate the index priority list. Dwell time is presented in the paper as radically new, but it isn’t. In fact, most of the features have been in use or tested by a number of search systems, including the now ancient system used by The Point (Top 5% of the Internet), which Chris Kitze, my son, and I crafted 15 years ago.

We too needed a  way to know only the specific Web sites to index. Trying to index the entire Web was beyond our financial and technical resources. Our approach worked, and I think Microsoft’s approach worked. But keep in mind that “worked” means users looking for popular content will be well served. Users looking for more narrow content will be left to fend for themselves.

I applaud Microsoft’s team for bundling these factors to create a browser graph. The problem is that scale is going to make the difference in Web search, Web advertising, and Web content analytics. Big data returns more useful insights about who wants what under what situation. Context, therefore, not shortcuts to work around capacity limitations is the next big thing.

Watch for the new IDC report authored by Sue Feldman and me on this topic. Keep in mind that this is my opinion. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

Stephen Arnold, July 26, 2008


14 Responses to “Microsoft’s Browser Rank”

  1. Chris on July 28th, 2008 1:00 pm

    Very interesting, although this has been tried before. DirectHit had a search engine built entirely on clickstream data (Acquired by in 2000). They got the data from ISPs in those days. The end-result is really not that much better than Page-Rank.

    We at Me.dium on the other hand ( are processing our user’s clickstream data in real-time to create a different lens based on what’s going on now. e.g. do a search for John Edwards on Google or Live, and you get and wiki/johnedwards. Do the same search on Me.dium and you learn that today people care about his love child, pictures of his mistress, etc.

    The difference is real-time (what people are browsing now) vs. historical (what they browsed in the past). Social vs. Old School. Check it out and let us know your thoughts.

  2. SEO Florida on July 28th, 2008 11:20 pm

    Browser rank will not get any popularity, as it’s just look like an Alexa rank.
    I don’t think, how this will define the quality of any webpages.
    It must be relevant to the traffic of website.

  3. Stephen E. Arnold on July 29th, 2008 7:47 am

    SEO Florida,
    Thanks for taking the time to post. Microsoft Research has many, many innovations. The issue is that the inventions don’t snap into a framework. Google does a better job of plugging innovations into its fabric. BrowserRank, like other in browser functionality, has a role to play in search. Hopefully Microsoft will settle on one framework and exercise more judgment in what is deployed.

    Stephen Arnold, July 29, 2008

  4. Stephen E. Arnold on July 29th, 2008 7:49 am


    Sorry for the delay in approving your post. I have been experiencing senior moments. I will check out me.dium.

    Stephen Arnold, July 29, 2008

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  10. Stephen E. Arnold on August 10th, 2008 9:31 pm


    I took a look at and had some negative impressions. If you want to send me some information, use seaky2000 at yahoo dot com. I don’t want to write about this service and create some issues for the company.

    Stephen Arnold, August 10, 2008

  11. chrome browser on September 20th, 2008 8:08 pm

    I sure hope Browser Rank becomes popular. I like the idea and it makes sense that the longer people stay on the site, the better that site must be. I hope they built that technology into IE 8.0 or else they may find themselves toast. MS is already too far behind Google with the page rank stuff.

  12. Stephen E. Arnold on September 22nd, 2008 6:19 pm

    Chrome Browser,

    I did another Browser Rank post but I spelled it “BrowserRank”. My fault for being inonsistent.

    Stephen Arnold, September 22, 2008

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