Microsoft has unveiled a fairly significant redesign of the MSN web site, the first overhaul the site has seen in about a decade. The new MSN site incorporates social networking and could breathe some life back into the mostly dead concept of web portals.
The preview of the new design appears to be less cluttered and confusing--which isn't easy to do when also trying to convey as much information at-a-glance on one page as possible. The format and layout are very similar to what Yahoo and Google provide with their web portals, and you can customize it to display the information you want to see in the order you want to see it. Fairly standard stuff.
What makes the MSN site more compelling is the focus on social networking. Microsoft boasts around 600 million MSN.com users, and has stated that 52 percent of MSN users also use Facebook, while 14 percent also use Twitter. The numbers seem sketchy when you consider that Facebook only has around 300 million users so that would mean that every single one of them also uses MSN.com, but let's just say that a lot of MSN.com users also use Facebook.
The new design integrates Facebook and Twitter updates (along with Microsoft Windows Live) in the lower right corner of the page. The incorporation of the Facebook and Twitter feeds provides MSN.com users with the ability to keep tabs on status updates and tweets all in one place rather than having to open separate web sites or applications for each one.
If the new MSN.com design attracts more users, or more frequent visits by existing users, it is also a good thing for Microsoft's Bing search engine. Obviously, since MSN.com is a Microsoft site, the default search provider for the site is Bing. More MSN.com visitors wanting to find information on the Web equals more traffic for Bing.
The combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Bing also complete a sort of Internet circle of life following Microsoft's announcement recently that Facebook updates and Twitter tweets would be indexed and included in Bing searches. Now you can visit MSN.com, view your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and search the Web with Bing, which will include Facebook and Twitter posts. Its all one big, happy, Web 2.0 family.
Most people have dismissed the web portal as a dead concept. The Internet has evolved and users are more savvy and don't need their hands held America Online-style. They can forage their own way through the interwebs and find what they need. The web portal has been replaced by the fact that 'Google' is accepted as a verb (as in 'just Google it'), and users can now 'Bing, and decide'.
To paraphrase Mark Twain though, the reports of the death of the web portal have been greatly exaggerated. Users have matured and most no longer need the sort of coddling that a web portal provides, but what they do need is a filter. There is too much data available and users are faced with information overload. People need a streamlined, at-a-glance, overview of the information that is relevant to them and the web portal delivers that.
The web browser opens up to a home page by default. You may as well have it open up to a site like MSN.com that gives you the information you need (including your Facebook and Twitter updates) in a clean and simple format.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.