Microsoft's MSN shopping team is quietly beta testing a shopping search site, the company confirmed on Friday. The new product--which focuses on price comparison and customer ratings - will face competition from increasingly popular shopping search engines like Shopping.com, Become.com, and Shopzilla, as well as Google's Froogle, Yahoo! Shopping, and America Online's inStore.

Justin Osmer, product manager for MSN, said the beta version, available at beta.shopping.msn.com, is very much a work in progress. "Now that the MSN Search engine has launched, we can very quickly innovate on top of it and offer more unique features and services," Osmer said in a statement. MSN's search engine officially launched last month.

Osmer also indicated that MSN might launch other vertical search engines. "Shopping, as well as a number of other verticals, is certainly an area where we are looking to expand search into," he said. "The Instant Answers feature with Encarta and MSN Music are really just a start. The year will be all about rapid innovation for us."

A message on the beta shopping site lays out MSN's intentions: "Our focus here is to explore new ways to help you search for products, refine your search, sort results in a variety of different ways (by price, popularity, etc.), compare similar products and their cost at different stores, and to provide product ratings and reviews by shoppers like yourself."

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