MSN Shopping & MSN Travel have died; MSN Soapbox almost dead; MSN needs to control its ads, & MSN Wallpapers

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft has finally shut down MSN Shopping (a site I thought was just horrendous for shopping) and MSN Travel (a site that really didn’t have much going for it either).

Here is Bing Shopping:

Here is Bing Travel:

I predicted this would happen eventually at some point, and I was right.

Personally though, I’m still not liking the design of Bing. It just seems rather bland and too white for me. And the ways it looks and is laid out just bores me. There’s very little graphic appeal, no nice colors, nothing. Just a bunch of text to look at with a few graphics.

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Then there’s MSN Soapbox news. Apparently, Microsoft is pretty much killing Soapbox as a place for users to upload and share videos. Rather than making it user oriented, they want to make it a specialized video-sharing site for just bloggers and citizen journalists. You know,kinda like Brightcove? Here’s a direct quote from CNET, the source of the news:

“Microsoft hopes to transform Soapbox, originally code-named Warhol, from an also-ran in the user-generated content space into a forum where bloggers and citizen journalists can post videos relevant to areas in which MSN focuses, categories like entertainment, lifestyle, and finance.”

I’m rather disappointed. I was hoping Microsoft would eventually update Soapbox with Silverlight effects, video thumbnail previews (like Bing), more Bing and Windows Live integration (like the What’s New feed updates and integrating Bing Maps for geotagging), and a bunch of other stuff Microsoft could/should do.

Instead, it’s been an awful video-sharing service. MSN Video is at the forefront, with Soapbox as a small pet project underneath it and hidden away with no advertising whatsoever. Many people who have posted comments to this news were surprised MSN Soapbox ever existed. This goes to show that Microsoft didn’t really even try with Soapbox. This was just another half-hearted attempt it seems to compete with someone. Examples of how Microsoft has not really tried:

  1. No ad campaign for MSN Video or Soapbox (that I remember)
  2. On the MSN homepage, in the list of content offered on MSN, there’s no direct link to MSN Video (however, there is a MSN video player with other video highlights, but it’s not direct to the MSN Video homepage)
  3. No major features added (well except a nasty filter crawler that detects copyrighted material) since launch around 2 years ago
  4. MSN Soapbox team blog long decommissioned. It used to be here: http://soapboxteam.spaces.live.com

MSN Soapbox was awesome in its beta days. There were no ads, my video showed up in amazingly high-res compared to YouTube, and the whole site seemed to have a lot of potential.

Nowadays, MSN Video reigns over Soapbox with it’s many MSN content videos, and partner channels. Soapbox is a small link away. Ads practically play before every video (often 30 seconds long, wasting lots of time), an MSN content video autoplays after 9 seconds a video finishes (mega annoying since I didn’t request this), very little content in comparison to Youtube, etc. I could go on and on.

The only really thing MSN Soapbox has going for it is its slick interface (where you can always video the video player while the page changes, and it’s convenient video queue. That’s about it. The fact that it’s going to become some stupid thing for writers, makes me think that Soapbox will soon be dying with the other services that have died because MS no longer really cared about it. Quite sad frankly.

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I’ve also noticed something tacky and utterly disgraceful about MSN: ads that pop onto the page (don’t confuse with pop-ups). Say you’re on the MSN Greetings site, and you’re browsing for eCards. Up shows a little ad, just like the one in the picture above. Not as a pop-up, but as an ad that appears on screen where you have to click “Skip Ad” to get it off the page. That’s something I’d expect from trashy website, not something affiliated with MSN. It could have something to do with the fact it’s really the American Greetings site, but Microsoft should be more responsible than that. Those ads are nasty and annoying and don’t make me want to use this site at all. Also, these eCards are rather weak for a high price and membership requirement.

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I’ve been looking around international MSN sites, and I noticed something called MSN Wallpapers on the British and South African version:

Gathering from the information on the site, you can find and discover interesting wallpapers MSN has collected, and you have the ability to fix the images up in a special type of software designed for MSN Wallpapers and you can even add speech balloons. You can also sign a wallpaper to specific times a day, or a wallpaper slideshow. Kinda interesting if you ask me. I might try it later and write about it.

So that’s about it for MSN news. There may be even more, but that’s all that’s too interesting at the moment.

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Bing is spreading around the interwebs fast!

The other day, I just posted my Bing entry, and now Bing has already been released to the public as a preview in the American market, and a beta in others. It’s interesting how rapidly it’s been spreading in the news and on other sites. There’s already been a somewhat positive feedback on Bing, where bloggers and readers have commended Bing for bringing a more different and useful style of search where Bing brings back results or information in a layout that is quite useful.

Bing has also invaded several website. On MSN, there’s already a Bing moniker next to the search box. If you take away the Bing logo, the search box actually looks kinda nice.

Bing is also present on Windows Live, in the (useless) search box. The only use the search box has in my opinion is to search the web, though it’s not the default. I still can’t find most of my real life friends using Windows Live.

Ask.com already recognizes Bing as a competing search engine, and tells users they should use Ask instead. (Personally, I think Ask.com has gotten worse since they removed universal search, and the many text ads are extremely annoying).

Bing also appears to have a mobile version. Bing Mobile can modify web pages to fit on a mobile phone screen by breaking the page down into sections. You can also call 1-800-BING-411 (1-800-246-4411) and orally tell Bing what local information you want to know.

Bing seems to be pretty promising. Keep up the good work Bing team.

Bing-o! We might have a winner?

News has come out that Bing will be replacing Live Search, and the Kumo branding has been scrapped.

Bing has several promotional sites you can visit including:

1. Decision Engine – Just one video that shows how Bing can help you decide stuff, a letter from the Bing Team, and links to follow Bing and share to your friends.

2. Discover Bing – This will showcase additional information about what Bing is, how it was developed, and the people behind some of the projects. There’s videos, and several Bing applications you can download.

The actual site is up, but it’s not available to users until June 3rd at http://bing.com/

Microsoft is marketing Bing as a ‘decision engine’, meaning that Bing isn’t just a typical search engine that will display the just pages and pages of results, but it will try to make it easier to display information that might help you reach your goal.

In my opinion however, Bing is pretty much the SAME as Live Search. Same results, just a new look and different layout. Personally, I don’t like that new look or the new layout. It didn’t add anything new, it just looks different and I don’t like it.

I do like the scorecard feature that they offer to compare prices and reviews. Microsoft has this neat algorithm that can scan through reviews and pick up keywords that will indicate how well a product/place does in a certain category. This already exists on MSN City Guides.

I also strongly dislike the logo the chose:

The font type isn’t really attractive, the ‘g’ looks too similar to another search engine we all know well of, and I don’t under stand why toe dot in the ‘i’ is yellow. Really, it’s just ugly.

I also don’t like the background fade that appears at the top right of the page. It’s distracting in my opinion, and doesn’t really do much.

I am also not a fan of the whole orange-blue-gray color scheme they have going. Looks kinda tacky.

Of course, things can change (the transition to MSN Search to Bing has shown this), so maybe they might change their logo to something better, and may you can turn off some of the glitzy effects. I really do hope Bing brings great results, and will add extra features over time. I think Bing may have the potential of finally being more on a competitive level with at least Yahoo! and maybe Google.

Official Press Release: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2009/may09/05-28NewSearchPR.mspx