Here are some of the latest MSN developments.
MSN City Guides has finally gotten a facelift! I wrote a nasty blog entry more than a year ago on how cruddy MSN City Guides was, and they finally listened to some of my feedback.
Well the have changed the look that’s fore sure. Here’s what I like about the revamped City Guides:
1. Complete switch to Live Search Maps and Live Search – Finally. Not just static Live Search Maps, but maps you can zoom and pan around in to look at the local area. When you hover over a point, it shows general info as well as an option to write a review or upload a photo about the point. The search results are also generally better and you can filter by neighborhood, type, or relevancy.
2. Social aspect – Users can now earn a reputation for their knowledge about a local area (though if you’re an expert in Houston, you may still be a newbie in Chicago). Reputations such as:
- City Newbie
- City Amateur
- City Pro
- City Champ
What qualifies you to level up?
- 1. Write reviews for any business within that city
- 2. Upload photos for that city. This may or may not be associated to any business.
- 3. Add businesses from that city to your collections
- 4. Add any business/location from that city to your “Plan to go” or “Been there” lists.
This is definitely an interesting aspect, and it might encourage some people to actually participate. You can also have specialties, public/private collections, reviews you’ve done, and (maybe) photos you uploaded. For more info: http://cityguides.msn.com/help.aspx
3. Ability so share a collection of places you’ve been – I can share a bunch of places I like to be publicly viewed, and I can also tag places where I’ve “been there” or “plan to go” and my Windows Live friends can see this.
4. Ability to make reviews – When MSN and Citysearch (a more true expert local site) broke up, you couldn’t make reviews anymore. Yes, that officially made MSN City Guides a site to avoid. Now you can add reviews with a rating, title and review.
5. Ability to upload photos – It’s not quite obvious, but if you hover over a point on the Live Search Map, there’s an option to upload a photo of the place. Now the process isn’t too hard, but I never saw the images that I upload of my high school in public display. Maybe it’s a quirk, but I upload 2 on specific points of the high school, and couldn’t spot them again. If my photos weren’t approved for some reason, I didn’t get any message saying why it wasn’t approved. This is a really awesome feature though, because often times, a lot of the listing have outdated photos or no photos, and allowing users to upload relevant photos is a great thing.
6. Ability to add events, venues and performers – It’s another very unobvious thing, but if you click on this: , right under the weather widget, you can add events, performers, and venues in your city and information about them.
7. Scorecards (for some restaurants) – The scorecard can be really useful if you want to a variety of categories that a restaurant has been judged on, such as it’s value, atmosphere, dessert, food quality, etc.
However, I couldn’t find any way to write a review where I can grade a restaurant based on this criteria. I’m wondering how MSN works this out. Actually, I’ve noticed these reviews are from CitySearch, so why doesn’t MSN offer such criteria to base our reviews on, if they’re going to welcome CitySearch reviews with such criteria?
How it could be better:
1. Can’t add events directly to Windows Live Calendar – I got this pop-up when I wanted to add an event to my calendar:
I’m surprised that there’s no direct access to Windows Live Calendar, but you do get other options…
2. Still kinda ugly – It’s hard to not notice how tacky looking the site is. The font type, colors scheme (black, navy blue, orange and yellow?), bad rendering in Safari (see below), among other details that suggest that the MSN team needs to hire better designers on the team. I know looks aren’t as important as the features and content, but the design is still crucial because it determines the site’s usability, discoverability, and may have aesthetics that make the user feel more positive.
3. Listings could use extra information to differentiate – Microsoft needs to differentiate MSN City Guides from the competition. One way would be to make listing include extra information, such as health rating, whether the restaurant is currently opened or closed (including a countdown of when it will close/open), tags, categories, excerpts of expert reviews from more professional sites, etc. Make the listings on MSN City Guides stand out against what the competition currently has.
4. Basic City Profiles – There should be a page dedicated to an overview of what the particular city is all about. Some up the characteristics, geography, and local hotspots a person may notice if visiting this city. Have a nice slideshow of great photos of that city, as well as a cool video showing the city in action. At least this would help bring some more truth in the whole “city guide” name.
5. Throw in classified listings – It would be neat if Windows Live Expo could live on through MSN City Guides. It will encourage more users to participate on the site, and make the site more alive. Users could also sign up to pay for premium listings, listings with extra feature like uploading a video,
6. Allow users to do ‘Scorecard’ reviews based on criteria – I think the ScoreCard is a great idea, but instead of just limiting this to people on CitySearch, how about giving users the same option? It provides far more accurate results, and it’s a key differentiator from just any review site. It honestly doesn’t make sense, because the Scorecard can be really handy. It seems really backwards that users on CitySearch get to have ScoreCard reviews, while we just have the same old-fashioned style reviews.
It’s fine and all that Microsoft has finally pushed a good update for MSN City Guides, but is there really a need for MSN City Guides? In my opinion, Microsoft really shouldn’t have MSN City Guides. There’s already well-established sites out there that do this, like Yelp, CitySearch, Yahoo! Local, etc. that take on a much better job.
Instead, Microsoft should just scrap MSN City Guides, and implement these features on Live Search Maps. Honestly, the stuff you can do on MSN City Guides already exists on Live Search Maps (such as finding places, info. and reviews about places, discovering users’ public collections, etc.). The only thing missing is a way to add data layers (such as events) on top of the map and a way to have user participation (which can be an external link to view someone’s profile). That’s about it. Otherwise, Microsoft would be golden if they keep improving Live Search Maps.
MSN Autos is finally upgrading to Live Search Maps, even though Live Search Maps has been here since like three years ago at least. It’s being called the “Gas Center” where it will allow you to zoom to street level, see gas listings and the map side-by-side, lets you navigate along your route to find the best gas prices, and share with friends.
I guess it is much better. Here’s the old version:
Here’s the new version:
You can see how the new one is MUCH better. However, I wish they would have gone on and beyond, and just combine the Gas Center and Local Traffic maps together instead of being on separate pages. It would be much more useful. Also, there should be data layer directly on Live Search Maps that show gas prices. It’s such a great feature, I don’t get why it’s available on MSN Autos and not Live Search Maps.
After hearing news of MSN Direct being phased out, I’m surprised that they’re even offering a new watch.
If you go to http://direct.msn.com on Safari 4.0, this is what it shows. However, after testing the site in IE8, I didn’t get the same result. It wasn’t shown. On the Safari browser, I tried clicking on the Flash banner, but nothing happened. It says there’s a new watch, but nowhere on the site does it show hardware devices. It only shows the Channels and Coverage available. Really stupid to say there’s a new watch, and not have any web link to it.
I have noticed a new MSN Direct site at http://msndirect.com/
It’s obviously a lot more up-to-date, so I’m still confused as to why they created a whole new URL, instead of just scrapping the old site it was on. The only bad part of the site I could find, was that when I checked out under the ‘Devices’ section, under ‘Smart Watches’, it just gave me a link the referred me back to the old site. Which in case if you I hadn’t mentioned, doesn’t show any watches or devices!
Instead, it should redirect you to this link (which I found by clicking MSN Direct Service Plans on the old Direct site).
Now that’s just even more stupid. The old MSN Direct site claims there’s a new Smart Watch. It doesn’t show this so-called watch anywhere on that site. I go to the new MSN Direct site, and references to Smart Watches brings me back to the old MSN Direct site (that didn’t even have a section for devices!). I find this link that leads me to a Smart Watches page on the new site (why didn’t it redirect me there the 1st time?) and now I realize: There’s no new Smart Watch! This is plain idiocracy. It’s not a wonder why MSN is having a hard time if you such bumbling things like this going on.
Well anyway, I’m hoping that MSN Direct can continue to stay, and I wish Microsoft could do some more advertising to keep it afloat. MSN Direct is extremely handy, and I’ve heard a lot of great compliments about it. Please don’t sell the service or destroy it.