The Web portal wars may have taken a backseat to social media, the mobile Internet and the cloud, but MSN still matters to Microsoft.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software company is readying a customizable MSN.com homepage, currently viewable at preview.msn.com, announced Brian MacDonald, corporate vice president of Information and Content Experiences at Microsoft, in a Sept. 7 statement. Visual updates aside, MSN was rebuilt "from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world," he said, echoing the oft-repeated phrase that encapsulates Microsoft's latest corporate strategy.
"It focuses on the primary digital daily habits in people's lives and helps them complete tasks across all of their devices," said MacDonald, signaling a shift from a content consumption model to one that encourages increased interaction with the company's cloud services.
The updated site features a "Services Stripe" just under the top navigation bar and Bing search box. "With a quick hover, you can easily check your email, browse your OneDrive, or even access your OneNote notebooks," said MacDonald. "We've also integrated popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, Office 365 and Skype."
In addition to tailoring content to an individual user's tastes, "the new MSN presents actionable information together with content and personal productivity tools like shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker, a 3D body explorer," to name a few new features, he added.
The company is also working on iOS and Android versions of its MSN apps, which are already available for Windows and Windows Phone, to support multi-device scenarios. Since profiles roam over the cloud, content preferences will "always be with you at your PC at work, on your iPad in the living room, or on your Android phone when you are on the go," stated McDonald.
Microsoft has partnered with major online content producers to help keep users up-to-date with current events, the company announced. They include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Overseas, content sources include "The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Asahi Shimbun in Japan; Sky News, The Guardian and the Telegraph in the UK, NDTV and Hindustan Times in India, Le Figaro and Le Monde in France," among others, said MacDonald.
Taking a cue from Google News, Microsoft's new MSN News section will allow users to select and follow topics, "creating a newspaper whose sections are personalized for you," he added.
Web portals, popularized by sites such as Yahoo in the 1990s and early 2000s, have seen their fortunes slip in recent years. Search giant Google and social media heavyweights like Facebook and Twitter have rewritten the rules of exploring online content.
But there's reason for Microsoft to keep the lights on at MSN. Millions of reasons, in fact.
"Boasting an audience of more than 425 million people across 50 countries, MSN has long been an essential part of peoples' online lives," said Frank Holland, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising in a statement. MSN's new bag of tricks is aimed at keeping them engaged. "Reimagined for a mobile world, the new MSN will help people around the world to connect with the content that most interests them while at the same help them make the most of every minute."