Analysis of MSN – What MSN should do for the future

I did a survey, and it seems most people just aren’t interested in MSN. Why? Well in my opinion, MSN’s content isn’t up to snuff as the more professional publishing companies, the design and layout is usually always horribly outdated and inconsistent, and a lot of redundancy and extraneous counterparts to other Microsoft properties.

I’d hate to think that MSN is there for the benefit of having people land on the pages for ads. If you ever have used the web Hotmail, and clicked Log Out, you’re redirected to the MSN homepage. IE’s traditional homepage has always been MSN.com. Whether you’re interested in MSN content or not, you helped give Microsoft a little ad revenue. So is MSN there for giving good quality content? Or is it there to serve as a small stream, but consistent place for ad revenue? I hope it is not the latter.

So if MSN isn’t there for just making some ad revenue, then Microsoft should really amp up the quality of MSN as a relevant place to get news and other content. Here are some actions I think the MSN team should do:

Destroy or Switch/Combine sites

Some MSN properties either need to die, or be moved on Windows Live. The properties that need to die are ones that very few people are likely to be using anymore, and ones that should go on to Windows Live are ones that fit better there, or already are available on Windows Live. The more trimming and consolidating, the more better resources will be.

Destroy:

  • MyMSN – There’s already Windows Live Personalized Experience. Both are pretty sappy in comparison to Netvibes. So why bother making a start page for MSN?
  • MSN Explorer – This is an internet browser, based on IE, made for MSN lovers. It’s the worst browser I’ve ever used. It’s too focused on MSN (of course), and it doesn’t compare at all to modern browsers. They haven’t updated this in years. Is there any point to having this browser anymore, and dealing with support for it? IE8 is the way to go. MSN Explorer is one example of how backwards thinking is still in the MSN team, if they’re still making it available.
  • MSNTV – MSNTV is a hardware unit where you can view MSN content, and view media from your PC right on your TV. I know there are some loyal fans of this, but there’s better alternatives today. You could just buy one of those cheap netbooks, or buy a Media Center Extender (such as the Xbox 360) and connect Windows Media Center to it. It’s pretty pointless to buy one anymore. In fact, there’s already something called a Chumby that’s much better than MSNTV.
  • MSN Dial-Up – Another rusty MSN service that I almost never hear anyone using. If you’re still using dial-up, you really need to get with the times and move on to DSL or Broadband. At $17.95 a month, you get much better deals if you found a real provider.
  • MSN A-list – Displays the hottest searches and headline hits on MSN. Boring! There’s already Live Search xRank for top searches, and popular headlines can be posted on their respected MSN content site.

Switch or Combine:

  • Greeting Cards – Make eCards an extension of  Windows Live Hotmail. Create a brand new looking site for eCards, enhance the selection available and make ‘eCards’ an option when you click ‘New’ in Windows Live Hotmail. Make it viewable inside the message area, instead of an external link. No need for a whole separate MSN branded site.
  • MSN ShoppingMerge with Live Product Search. They both basically do the same exact thing, but LPS is much better looking, much better organized, and product searching fits Live Search more than MSN. MSN Shopping has always almost been cruddy looking, horrible with AJAX, and all over the place with ads. It’s best to merge the two shopping sites together, and work on making one better shopping site. Add the whole MSN Shopping’s Frequent Shopper thing should move on to Live Product Search.
  • MSN Video & Soapbox – I’ve always thought this should belong to the Windows Live group. Rebrand MSN Video as Windows Live Video (or something more catchy…) and add much-needed improvements to the video-sharing site. MSN Video is one of my most least desirable places to share videos, and if they could just improve it a lot with functionality comparable to other video-sharing sites, and make it look better, then it’d be a fine place to share videos.
  • Yellow Pages & White Pages – That’s really just Live Search Maps. There’s a ‘People’ search that replaces White Pages, and ‘Businesses’ that replaces Yellow Pages. No need for two different spots.
  • MSN Premium – Almost all of it is available for free and much better in Windows Live, or any other online service. $9.95 a month is stupid. Instead, I”m hoping Microsoft make having a Pro account available on Windows Live with much better stuff.
  • MSN Direct – Should be another Windows Live service. Windows Live Mobilizer.

Redo the MSN Homepage

I already mentioned a post about this several times. I’ll do a quick stroll through how the homepage should be:

  • Fix the overall look – Current look is cruddy. Minimize the mess of links into separated tab section, give a better color scheme, knockout unnecessary links in list of sites (exc. Windows Live services), better modules, etc.
  • News Ticker – A new ticker would be useful across the MSN homepage. Up to the minute news can flash across the page, and just click if you want to view it. Could use this on MSNBC too
  • Daily Poll – Something a bit to amuse you if you visit the MSN homepage everyday.
  • Better international sites – The international sites could also use a same facelift. Well except for some like Australia’s.
  • Fix up the MSN Highlights player – The thing near the top of the page that shows the day’s highlights could use a better look, and less dumb stock photos
  • Icons affixed to each MSN content site – Easier to spot than to find and read each content site that’s listed

Consolidate MSNBC and MSN Content sites

It’s just redundant how Microsoft has two areas where you can find content on MSN: either through specific-made content sites or MSNBC’s sites. For instance:

The list goes on and on. Granted, MSN’s content sites are much more focused on the actual content, while MSNBC’s sites are move on news coverage, but it should still be consolidated into a supersite instead of two different, yet similar sites. A good way to compromise on this would be to have MSN content sites stand on its own, and leave a section for MSNBC to post their news related to that content somewhere on the site. So you can go to MSNBC for national and other major news, while you can go to the MSN sites for more in-depth content AND MSNBC news related to that content. The only issue is the sports content… But it just seems disorganized to have a news site going on and several MSN content sites with similar topics running alongside it.

Do it the way NineMSN does it. Everything topic is all available on one site, and it feels much more organized to sift through.

Fix up the content sites

Even though MSN had a little design refresh in their sites, it’s just not enough. Here’s what the content sites need to do:

– Good consistent layout – There needs to be more consistency across any article page, whether it’s MSN Autos, Health, Real Estate, etc. They should all look similar in layout, when it comes to reading a specific article. The article stays on the left side of the page, a toolbox with good tools to the side/bottom of the article, same font, ad pane to the right, tabs for related/top-stories/etc. on the right, comment section at bottom, logo of syndicated source branched next to the title, etc. It would really help if every MSN article page had a good similar format. There also needs to be a date that it was published, posted near the top, for easy bibliographical reference.

  vs

MSN’s toolbox takes up a lot of space, and could use more features like the one on the right. Translate could use Windows Live Translator, there could be an IM option, star rating, Share Article with many services, etc. Toolboxes are very important, and I think IHT’s is the best.

Does there really need to be “What’s your home worth?” box right in the middle of an article? It’s just distasteful.

The 4 pictures above are screenshots of the bottom page view of 4 different MSN articles. What do they have in common? Almost nothing. Even the toolboxes tare different in each! All the toolboxes have different items and different amount of items. It’s ridiculous! Some pages have ugly sponsored links at the bottom, almost all MSN sites waste the margin area where they could post more, and it’s just ugly how MSN sites don’t have a uniformed consistent design. Not even when it comes to an article page. It’s really sad.

– Easy to read font – Like Verdana, or Calibri, or maybe Segoe? As long as it’s the same on all sites, that’d be good.

Needs a better appearance – Is it that hard to make good-looking sites? Microsoft really seriously needs a great graphic designer for the MSN team. Almost every single MSN site is just ugly and unappealing by 2009 standards. Give each MSN content site a unique theme that looks appealing (as long as the sites are consistent), and fix the gradients better, a lot of the stuff I mentioned with a consistent layout. They could also use a lot more AJAX so I don’t have to keep reloading the page over and over again, and pull some speed in some operations. I’m not an expert or anything, but from a beauty point of view, MSN is not good looking.

– HD video content – Not just video content, but HD video content. A good HD video embedded in MSN articles would be way more awesome than a standard player or just a silly stock photo. Videos are useful in illustrating and explaining the content mentioned, and moving to high definition would be the next evolution.

– Comment section – Not some forums. Please post a comment section at the end of the page, and hide the comments by default, with the ability to expand by AJAX.

 

Do photo slideshows right – I hate having to reload a new page to go to the next photo in a slideshow. My internet speed is fast, but the reloading of the page doesn’t provide a seamless transition to the next photo that I would like.

 

MSN ugly gray slideshow box compared to AOL’s sleek Flash slideshow. If MSN wants you reload the page for advertising reasons, AOL manages to also reload the site’s ad pane without affecting the whole entire page. MSN could use some web geniuses.

Podcasts – Podcasts are a way to connect with users by allowing them to subscribe to an audio or video broadcast. People could always read articles, but I bet many would love to listen to an eloquent person go on and about a particular topic, or watch the content right on their iPod or Zune.

Do more “original” content

I’ve seen past MSN Original content, and it’s pretty neat. MSN buddies up with some advertiser, and they usually create a special themed site, often with a neat miniseries of videos or guides that viewers might find interesting to look at. Unfortunately, most often, they’re not permanent sites. They just come and go. Here are a few good examples of recent “original” content that I’ve seen MSN doing:

MSN created their own special site for the Angels & Demons movie which not only includes just a trailer, but also a neat Photosynth view of the Vatican filming location (you can see some of the sets) and even a contest! So it’s a neat site for people interested in the movie as well as sort of an advertisement for Sony Pictures.

Chef to the Rescue has been on MSN for awhile, and features Cat Cora showing how she makes some delicious food. It’s sponsored by Morning Star (or Kraft when I last remember…). Some of the stuff is pretty delicious. Like the Chocolate Pudding with Meringue. Mmm!

Originals is something that I really like MSN, and I think is the future of how content can mix with advertising. I’d just wish that any MSN Original content:

Uses HD videos – Like I said, HD is the way to go these days.

Offers the chance to test out new Microsoft technologies – This is Microsoft’s chance to offer viewers a look into some of the latest Microsoft technologies. Like having a Photosynth thing in Angels & Demons is an example of this. Or maybe a SeaDragon thing, or a Live Map, etc. The possibilities are endless in how Microsoft can position their technology to the masses in a clever way.

Keeps any video content on MSN Video – Please keep the video content still available on MSN Video (or Windows Live Video, if they follow my advice) when or if they kill the site.

[Professional] Weblogs

A professional weblog is a mix between a professional content site with a personal blog-like feel. Here, writers blog passionately about things that pertain to a certain topic (like tech) and put ads that help pay for their job. AOL bought Weblogs Inc. and it’s one of the successful things that’s still keeping AOL alive. MSN should also ratchet up making their own professional weblogs to appeal to an overwhelming younger audience, instead in reading content with a bit more pizzazz. Here’s a few good made-up ones I made:

BIU Blog (Bold, Italics, Underline) – Blog about office tips and stories that an office worker may find interesting

Fashionista – Site for female fashion lovers, and shoppers

Bookworm – Site for book lovers, with most types of genres covered with book reviews, upcoming books, etc.

Gardener – Site for gardeners with tips on growing, new stuff, awesome gardens around the world, etc.

Foodie – Place where all types of food are posted, recipe of the day, new products that have been personally tested, restaurants, etc.

I’d think that MSN should refrain from having a professional weblog on technology, web/computer downloads, or gaming. It’d be too difficult for anyone to assume there won’t be any strong bias in favor of Microsoft in these areas (even if MS did promise that these bloggers will be unbiased) and some of the most popular sites on the web (like Engadget, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, etc.) would compete head to head with Microsoft, and it’d be best if Microsoft didn’t sway those sites to start posting bad crud about Microsoft for competing against them.

Professional weblogs wouldn’t replace true content sites, but merely be a complement to them.

Wealthy database of information

MSN has sites like Movies, and TV, that have a lot of information about certain things. You can find a pretty great database of all types of TV shows ever created on MSN TV, or movies on MSN Movies, and so on and so on. So maybe MSN should focus on providing more rich data on such things to make a real wealthy database for users to access and look up information on. Making MSN more useful than a couple of articles. Here are some places on MSN where they could acquire a rich database for users to access great information on something they might be interested in:

Other stuff MSN should add

Here’s a list of other things I think MSN should have to be a good content hotshot:

  • MSN Kids – A safe site for kids to enjoy with games, quizzes, polls, and many links to other kid-friendly sites
  • MSN Editorials – Similar to the Windows Live Clubhouse, users can create a Space on their account, and submit articles related to important editorial topics (government, transportation, global warming, etc.), and add special coded tags so that their post can automatically be viewable on the MSN Editorial site where many users could discover and find many interesting editorials made by users.
  • MSN Comics – A page where you can find tons of syndicated comics running all over the country. There would be many different comics, and archives of comics to look at. You could even create a special personal page where you can add your favorite comics to view every day. My local newspaper has a ton on their site, so MSN can too.
  • MSN Butterfly – I kinda like the MSN butterfly logo. I don’t know why they chose a butterfly, but I think it’s pretty cool. They could make a Silverlight site where you could chase the MSN butterflies in a bright meadow, and if you catch one, you get a preview of an article that you might possibly be interested in. It’s just a play site, really.

So these are just some ideas to keep MSN going forwards into the future, rather than stuck being one of the worst web portals to get content. If Microsoft can’t handle doing this stuff, they don’t really need to waste time and management on a dumb web portal like this. They could just close down MSN and bring those employees to work on Windows Live stuff, if they don’t mess that up too. MSN is a nostalgic brand , but I wouldn’t mind it dying in its current state. There’s ton of other better content sites (esp. actual publishing companies with magazines) to find stuff, than MSN. It’d be a smarter move, if Microsoft can’t manage a grand plan like this.

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4 thoughts on “Analysis of MSN – What MSN should do for the future

  1. I have been an MSN subscriber for many years. I will admit that I have never really used their stuff (although I like autos.msn.com) but originally it was for dial-up, then later I kept using it for passport identity and I have just kept it, now my Zune and XBox accounts are linked to it. I will have to disagree with your assesment of my.live.com; I live and die off of my personalized live page for both tech/professional as well as personal news. I really grew to dislike MSN when they joined forces with NBC (fire Oberman for goodness sake). As for shutting down MSN, I have run into this with supporting a family member. Their msn account is part of their internet package and they can not use Windows Live Mail but they can use hotmail so their is some branding issues that would have to be resolved.

  2. For my part, I agree with all of this post and would actually take it further, MSN should be closed. pensioned off, and everything that is possible moved to the Live stable. Its confusing, some things are duplicated, its old fashioned, its really not necessary or useable now that Live is available. If Microsoft want to \’hang on\’ to a News Service, then call it Live News. For everyones Home page they should take a leaf out of the book of the BBC, look at their Home page. It fabulous and so attractive to look at. Here at http://www.bbc.co.uk

  3. @John : Interesting. I guess my.live.com is fine, but have you tried other start pages? And if they did shut down MSN, it would your family member\’s account could go onto Windows Live. I wonder what this package is. Is it Verizon internet?@Technogran: I had no idea BBC changed their homepage. Well if they\’d want to \’hang on\’ to a News Service, it\’d have to have the MSNBC name in it, if they\’re still pulling news from MSNBC. I think MSN UK has it\’s own news source though.

  4. I like MSN Original content too. It\’s pretty neat. That\’s like the only thing I\’d ever think of going to MSN for. Yeah, MSN needs to fix itself a LOT. I can\’t believe how disorganized they are, and how they get paid to barely do anything. Thanks for sharing that comic site, I\’ll be using it a lot. MSN Butterfly would interest me, I easily like something that\’s fun to mess around with. Good stuff here. If MSN followed your ideas, they\’d do a whole lot better. Unfortunately, it\’s unlikely they will.

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