MSN finally tries to show itself on social sites and RSS feeds

I noticed this ad on Windows Live Profile today:

I know RSS has been available on MSN for awhile now, but Twitter and Facebook? They might as well also hit MySpace, Reddit, and other sites too. I would like to say I’m shocked it took this long, but considering how long it’s taken MSN to do other things, well it’s not much of a surprise anymore.

I clicked on the ad, and got this site, where it showed what types of MSN content were available on Twitter, Facebook, and RSS:

As you can tell, this site wasn’t made that perfectly, because when I hovered over “MSN Movies” under the Facebook section, not headlines or anything showed up. Just a plain blue rectangle. Same for all the other MSN on Facebook links. Even when I refreshed the page, there was still nothing. I’m running this in IE8 by the way, and even did Compatibility Mode, but nada. MSN still has some work to do on improving their sites…

At least it’s nice to see them catching up some more.

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MSN City Guides gets an update, MSN Autos finally moves towards Live Search Maps, MSN Direct to die?

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.

For more info: http://news.ebrandz.com/microsoft/2009/2606-microsoft-overhauls-msn-city-guides-with-live-search-and-maps.html

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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.

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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.

MSN jazzes up its page for Chanel No. 5

I landed on the MSN page after signing out of Hotmail (darn Windows Live!) and I noticed that the MSN page looked different. It had this nice black gloss, but it also seemed to be spotlighting Chanel No. 5 perfume:

You can even watch the film ad for Channel No. 5:

If you can see close enough, you would notice that this is just an overlay over the MSN homepage. Pretty good. I wish you could control the slider on the timeline though.

I love it when MSN does stuff like that. It’s at least different, and jazzes up life a bit. Though they could do even better, because I still think the MSN homepage is still ugly after all these years. I noticed this ad on 5/5/09

MSN catch-up : MyMSN Beta and MSN Travel now partners with Orbitz

I’m going to do a quick spin on what’s new in MSN : the MyMSN beta and MSN Travel now partners with Orbitz, and not Expedia.

So here’s a quick look at what’s in the new MyMSN beta. I’ve remarked before how MyMSN always seemed like crud, except for the fact that it had the re-sizable columns feature. Well MyMSN just got a whole new look recently, as well as several tweaks. Here’s the tour.

               

There’s certainly some new changes including:

  • Ad pane – Now there’s actually a Flash ad rectangle sitting in the upper right corner of the page. Just like the MSN.com page. This could be a bit of a downer, considering Live.com doesn’t have any Flash ads on its page.
  • New look – The page looks more like the latest MSN page, and a nice big shiny header.
  • Ability to add feeds – Now you can finally put in some RSS feeds to read
  • Custom pages – MSN has some nice custom pages you can pick from, with preloaded modules. Even a custom theme with it.
  • More themes – There’s a lot more to choose, from the include a neat header and differently shaded modules. This sounds silly, but MyMSN has even more color options that my.live.com, which is kinda sad.
  • MyMSN Gallery – A central place to find modules for your MyMSN page. You can search, look at categories, and it’s as easy as pressing the button. A check mark appears in the spot, and you can keep browsing.

However, it’s still missing or hasn’t improved on these:

  • Ability to create your own module – You can’t make a custom module, beyond RSS feeds. Though you can make some at Windows Live Gallery, and put them on your my.live.com page
  • 5-page limit – You still have a 5 page-limit like you did before. However, on my.live.com, you can get up to 20+ pages. I didn’t try beating the my.live.com page limit.
  • Ad – There’s an obvious ad pane in the upper-right. You can’t move the ad around or anything. It’s permanent. The old version didn’t have that, and neither does my.live.com
  • 3-column limit – You currently can only have 3 columns. The old MyMSN had a 10-column limit (which is pretty huge!), and my.live.com has a 4-column limit.
  • Can’t share pages – You can’t share a custom page or anything like that.
  • Lack of quality modules – There’s plenty of modules, but they can only be made by MSN. There’s nothing too much on the fun side, productivity side, or anything like that. Most of it is just either MSN content, or feeds from partners.
  • Lack of customizability – There’s only so much that you could customize. You can’t customize individual modules, add icons to page names, etc.
  • No support for drag-‘n-drop modules across pages – You can’t drag-‘n-drop modules to another page. Really. That just sucks when you’re customizing.

Overall, MyMSN is better than it’s predecessor, but not by much. Basically, the new MyMSN is just a jazzed up new look, with some new themes, and the additional ability to add feeds. That’s IT. It’s hard to say that it’s better than my.live.com, since they’re both practically the SAME! I don’t know what the heck Microsoft was think about fixing up MyMSN, when "Windows Live Personalized Experience" (aka my.live.com ), does practically the same thing. So does that mean the Windows Live team and the MSN team compete against each other in the same company? It’s really confusing at this point. And I’ll just say that I’ve used tons of other start pages, and my.live.com and MyMSN both can’t compare to the customizability and free flow nature of Netvibes. My Yahoo! comes a close second though. 

Microsoft just needs to get that people want to be able to be free, and allow them to use whatever they want on their services. Looks at sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all the likes. They’re popular because they do a great job at what they’re supposed to do, as well as integrate very well with other services. They don’t hold any restrictions to what you can use, the type of account you sign-in with, or any of that. Sorry if I’m ranting, but I just don’t get how a company just doesn’t get it and adapt to the way things are changing.

Anyways, here’s some other screenshots:

                                        

Pre-customized Entertainment page.

                                    

Moving around a module (dashed lines!)

                                     

The "Gallery Content"

So next, MSN Travel has recently partnered with Orbitz, and Expedia seems to have disappeared off the site magically. Well, except for a small link right under the Orbitz block. Quite strange, considering Expedia was spun off of Microsoft in 1999. Does this mean trouble in MSN land? Just makes you wonder why they would just stop handing out Expedia deals right off the page like that.

                                                                             

So that’s all I’ve seen that’s really new in MSN.

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