For months, I’ve been surfing through some of MSN’s content. Like MSN Autos, MSN Travel, MSN Lifestyle, MSN Health, and tons of other MSN content sites. At first, I thought they were your pretty boring run-of-the-mill stuff. But there’s some quite interesting articles. If you’re bored, or have lots of free time, some of MSN’s content isn’t 1/2 bad. In fact, most of it is actually good. If you have the time to be interested in something, that is. I notice that for the most part, most of the content comes from other providers, like FoxSports, CNET, match.com, other companies, and various magazine. All put in a MSN branded site. Very little comes from MSN itself, that I’ve noticed. That’s not a bad thing, considering Yahoo! takes the same type of approach. For the most part, the content is good, but the layout and style are kind of awful. Even with the new January Effect update, MSN could still use a better look.
So I thought about some ways that I wish MSN could improve their content. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. A toolbox for interactivity with the article – Trying to find the "Print Article" button, the "IM Article" button, "E-mail article" or if any buttons at all to do anything with the article. Sometimes they’re at the bottom of the page, at the top, or who know’s where? And that’s across all the MSN sites. None of the articles on any of the MSN sites always follow a particular pattern. Instead, there should be a dedicated toolbox that holds the ‘tools’ to ways you can interact some more with the article. Sort of similar to the one that the International Herald Times uses on their articles. I like the way IHT has the toolboxes in their articles. Here’s how Microsoft can incorporate some of the features already in the IHT’s toolbox, and add some more better one’s:
- "E-mail Article" – IHT opens up another browser, and there’s the typical to and from e-mail addresses, and a personal message. MSN can improve it, by having an on screen, or come up on the page itself, instead of a whole other browser.
- "Listen to Article" – IHT pop’s up another browser, and there’s this Microsoft Sam-like sounding player, where you press play, and the guy speaks the article. They use something called Readspeaker, and it’s pretty good. It would be neat if MSN had that type of thing.
- "Print Article" – IHT launches up another browser tab, and there’s a more printer-friendly (but with some ads) page. MSN can one up this, and open up another page (I hate popup browser tabs!) and have the page just solely be the article. No ads.
- "3 Column Format" – Just for the person that prefer to read it all on there at once in 3 columns, instead of scrolling down a page. Not that important, but it’s a nice feature. MSN should have this too.
- "Translate" – IHT doesn’t do a true good job of it. You choose a language, and it opens up another browser tab, and while the whole article is still in English, if you don’t happen to know one of those words, you just press it and out pops a mini-dictionary. Not truly that convenient. I’d rather have the whole article translated at once instead of translating a word, one-by-one. Could MSN do a better job with that?
- "Share Article" – To places like Digg, del.icio.us, Furl, and Yahoo! MyWeb. I’m thinking that MSN should only do Digg, del.icio.us, Furl, and Reddit. That’s all there really needs to be. It never hurts to actually have a share function in a MSN article for once.
- "Text Size" – Sadly, MSN has never had this on any of their articles. Not even on MSNBC. I like that IHT’s version provides onscreen text size changing, and doesn’t require the page to reload. It has 5 different text sizes. It would be awesome if MSN’s articles could have that too.
- "Favorites"/"MyStuff"/"MyClips" – something of that kind. A non-IHT feature. It’s sort of like putting a favorite on an article you like, and saving it for later, if you want to see it again. Like your favorites/bookmarks on your Internet browser. MSN could have some place/page dedicated to find some of your favorited MSN articles. It would be a neat option, especially if you can access these articles again, anytime you want. It’s much better than having to put a stupid internet browser favorite on a article, or printing it. To some, digitally saving an article is much more convenient than keeping a physical copy, or tracking up on the clutter on your computer. MSN having it’s own place for one would be neat. On the toolbox, there could just simply be a star with "Favorites"/"MyStuff"/"MyClips", or whatever, and if you want to favorite that article, the star turns gold. Neat, huh? This should definitely be the first or 2nd choice on the toolbox.
- "IM Article" – Also, a non-IHT feature. I would love to have the option to IM a neat article to one of my Messenger buddies. Of course MSN would use the Messenger IM. Sort of similar to the way you can IM a video on Soapbox. A nice picture of the Windows Live Messenger icons (the blue and green IM guys) would be a good icon in the toolbox.
- "Blog this Article" – Another non-IHT feature. Just a quick link to blog the article. Most likely Live Spaces of course. But it wouldn’t hurt if one day, they allowed you to blog to a non-Live Spaces blog. A simple picture of a notebook would make a fine icon on the toolbox.
- "Rate this article" – (non-IHT), where there’s a 5 star thing on the toolbox, and you simply move across the stars, and mark your rating. Similar in size and scale to the way MSN Soapbox does it, where you can even change the rating, once you already rated. That would be a neat feature. Should be either a first or last thing on the toolbox.
That’s what MSN should do. MSN should put a toolbox for all this stuff, and apply it the same way IHT does it. Even the way the IHT has dashed lines between each function, is something that should be considered for MSN’s Article Toolbox. At least IHT did it right, for the most part. MSN’s Article Toolbox could improve some of the functions in IHT’s toolbox, and add some of their own features (like the last 4 I listed) onto their toolbox. MSN really needs one. That’s how the future of web articles should be.
2. Get rid of stuff that doesn’t have to do with the article, or this particular section of MSN – It’s so annoying to see the "More on MSN" box. It’s provides a smattering of other stuff on MSN’s other content areas. I could care less about them. If I’m on MSN Health, I could care less about what’s on MSN Tech, MSN Real Estate, or anywhere else. I’m there to see MSN Health stuff. If they to introduce me to MSN’s other stuff, put it in a ad format on the page. Otherwise than that, don’t mix extra MSN’s other content links with the content from that site. It’s so annoying. Also, the MSN Shopping deals from each site gets annoying too. I doubt anyone ever uses MSN Shopping (and for good reason), so putting it there right next to the content, is not making me want to go there. So stop putting other MSN content if it doesn’t have anything to do with the article or content.
3. More video content – It would be nice to have some video content along with the articles. And I mean along the articles. I hate it when I have to press a link to MSN Video. It takes a long while to load up, and I can’t look back at the article if the page changed for MSN Video. Instead, there’s should be an embedded player right next to the article. Maybe a Soapbox-esque player right next to the article? And they better be good videos. Not videos with corny/awful background music with some photo slideshow, and a droning voice. They better be interesting and well-put together. So more video content would be awesome.
4. More better design cues – I frequently talk about how there’s a more bigger need of Web 2.0-ness in MSN sites. Yahoo! has recently been updating their sites too, and they have a more Web 2.0 esque like style. It’s better, but it still looks kind of cheesy and overdone in a way. The January Effect has helped some. Especially with MSN Entertainment. MSN Entertainment’s design is awesome. Much more friendlier, and better. They still need some work on the content side though. But the way it’s designed is awesome. MSN Soapbox also has a great design. Unfortunately, most of the other MSN sites aren’t exactly as friendly. They’re ok, but they could still do more. They should follow the MSN Entertainment route, and make them look nice and great.
5. Less ads – Not necessarily take off ads, but put less of them, or at least in less annoying places. Luckily, I’ve never come across an MSN site with pop-ups. That’s a good thing. The next annoying ad type are the ones when you hover over them, they shoot out. I do actually look at those sometimes, but there are times when your mouse just barely hits the edges of the ad, that it shoots out. That’s the annoying part. Also, on some MSNBC articles, there’s the annoying hover over text ads. Some of the words in the article have green text, with 2 green double underlined marks. If you happen to hover over them, an ad pops-up, relating to the green text that was hovered over with. It’s usually a Live Search ad for that word from Vibrant. It’s annoying. Can’t I just read an article, an move my mouse around without trigger up these things? MSNBC is full of ads, and it’s sickening. MSN Travel has Expedia deals everywhere. Like on every page, there’s usually this big MSN/Expedia deal maker, similar to the one with MSN/match.com. That’s ok, but there’s tons of other Expedia deals on the page with the content. Including the dreaded "More on MSN". Too much ads make me dislike a service/product. There’s just too much sometimes, and it’s dreadful.
6. A better way of showing your content sources – I always hate how sometimes the source of the article is all bunched up at the bottom, or somewhere on the page. Or I can’t find an exact date. So could MSN do it in a way that offers the title and the content source could to be next to each other, with a vertical dashed line between them? There’s the article’s title on one side, and on the other side of the dashed lines, is the logo of the content source. If you hover over the logo of the content source, out pop’s up the content source, and the date, and under that, is a little brief message about the content source. Like "Esquire – The magazine for the cool man". Something of that kind, instead of bunched up messages about the content source at the bottom.
7. Better commenting system – It would be nice if you could comment on every article, instead of having to go through the old message board. There could be a "See comments (# of comments)" button tab, and for those who want to see them, they press it, and out pops (on the page), the comments. There also needs to be a way to submit and interact with comments. I would love a toolbar right in, or on top of the comment box. I would love to have the Bold, Italic, Underline, Number List, Bullet List, Hyperlink, Image Link, Quote, Emoticons, and Spell Check buttons all in one toolbar at the top of the comment box. It would be very handy to have.
I would also like to rate comments and flag them. A Digg-like system where a thumbs-up indicates something good, a thumbs-down indicates something bad, and a flag button to indicate something inappropriate. The # of diggs can be displayed next to it. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, that’s the top 7 things MSN could do to improve their content. If they can do that, they would probably have one of the best content articles on the Internet. They should absolutely do this stuff. That’s my opinion.