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.