Microsoft has acquired Medstory, a vertical search engine for health information. This is an interesting development in a few ways - but in terms of Web tech trends, because it's another sign of the rise of vertical search engines. We've written before about how VSE such as Retrevo are beginning to make their presence felt, alongside generic search engines like Google and Live Search.
Microsoft has bought Medstory because it's an "intelligent" and "intuitive search technology". The NY Times says that Medstory's "search software applies artificial intelligence techniques to medical and health information in medical journals, government documents and on the Internet."
Doing some quick tests of Medstory, I noted that the search results were very thoroughly categorized and the types of sources were clearly identified, so that users can get e.g. clinical trials and research materials if they wish. It's a great example of how a vertical search engine can offer 'value add' features that are specific to the domain - for example in the case of health, which is a highly specialized domain, the source of search results is important; as is categorizing them so that different types of information can be perused more easily.
This acquisition follows Microsoft's purchase last July of "health-intelligence" vendor Azyxxi. Mary Jo Foley is also reporting that Microsoft's Health Strategy group "has been building "Windows Live Healthcare" offerings, some of which could be free and ad-supported, and others of which could be paid and subscription-based."
While the web-based health industry is a potentially huge market (just ask Jim Clark of Netscape and Healtheon fame), which probably is the main reason for Microsoft's interest in it, an equally valid reason could be that Microsoft wants to corner the vertical search engine niche for health - before Google gets to it.