In an effort to align Bing services to the “Mobile First, Cloud First” vision, Microsoft will soon re-brand its cross platform Bing Apps back to the MSN brand. Though this may sound confusing since the Bing search platform has slowly risen to be a strong band for Redmond (despite the dominance of Google), Microsoft still maintains two other web portals: Live.com and MSN.com. This is an effort to consolidate these three different Microsoft Web portals into a unified portal, similar to Yahoo.
Microsoft’s Web Portal Website Rankings Per Alexa.com
|Microsoft Web Portals||Global Ranking||United States Ranking||Kenya Ranking|
Top 10 Websites Ranked Alexa.com
The table above shows where the three different websites are ranked by Alexa.com. As you can see, though none of the Microsoft web portals appear in the top 10 rankings, they are still ranked relatively high. To understand why Microsoft has 3 similar portals, we have to examine how MSN came into being.
History of Microsoft’s Web Portals
Historically MSN was created back in 1995 with the aim of providing curated content for Windows 95 users. It expanded to include multimedia content on the Web content, innovative for its day. But due to the poor bandwidth and streaming technology of the day, the usability was poor. In 1998, Microsoft changed the direction of MSN to act mainly as a portal of its services (Hotmail, Messenger and MSN Search) while providing value add content from partners such as ESPN. In 2005, Microsoft pivoted again and spun of its Hotmail, Messenger and MSN Search services into Windows Live. At this point MSN changed again into a provider of multimedia content (to compete with Yahoo). In 2009, Live Search (formerly MSN Search) was spun off into its own entity called Bing. Bing has grown into the 2nd largest web search engine (16.9% to Google’s 66.4%). In 2012, the Live brand was decommissioned by Microsoft and its services left to operate on their own recognizance, Outlook.com, Onedrive.com, Skype, and Bing Maps.
With the launch of Windows 8 and its tiled Start Screen, Microsoft launched MSN following similar design guidelines. The redesigned portal was a huge improvement of the old MSN design, as it used a mobile responsive modern design. The new MSN portal was also region sensitive and aimed to highlight content that was relevant to the region of the specific user. Microsoft created partnerships with content providers across the world to provide this content. For example in South Africa, Kagiso Media was contracted to provide the relevant content under the brand “Howzit MSN”.
In September 2013, Microsoft together with Kagiso media together expanded the MSN portal to Kenya and Nigeria. This was great news for Kenyan and Nigerian users of MSN, especially those on the new Windows 8 platform, as it meant that we now had content delivered to us with the same user experience that other MSN users around the world had.
— Latiff Cherono (@NairobiWP) April 7, 2014
However since then, both portals have been quietly reverted back to the old MSN website design. Furthermore the twitter Handle and Facebook page for the MSN Kenya site have been deactivated. Users trying to access the MSN Kenya page are now redirected to the African.Howzit.MSN.com page which is a useless mishmash of African news, presented in an unappealing fashion. If a user attempts to access the different categories of news for example business or sport, they are provided with a majority of South African content that adds little value to citizens of other African countries. Furthermore, if a user attempts to access a more engaging MSN site, such as the US or UK portal, they are automatically redirected back to the African Howzit MSN page.
At the same time, Microsoft was strengthening the Bing Brand with a number of value add applications, This includes Bing News, Bing Maps, Bing Health, Bing Travel, Bing Food & Drink, Bing Sports, Bing Finance and Bing Translator. Available on all three major mobile platforms (Windows 8/Windows Phone, iOS and Android), these applications focus on providing curated, high quality, region specific content to users. As with the MSN Windows 8 initiative, Microsoft has signed partnerships with content providers in 50 countries across the world to provide citizens of those countries with an excellent user experience. If you are not in one of these regions you can still access the content, though it may not be formatted for your region (both in language or content).
Bing Rebrands Back into MSN
Microsoft has launched a new version of MSN that blends elements of the Live.com website, Bing Apps and the old MSN Website into a new portal. This new portal, preview.msn.com aims to reduce content redundancy in the 3 platforms and to direct web traffic to a single source rather than spread across 3 different sites. A consumer can now easily access all off Microsoft’s services on user friendly and engaging website. He or she can quickly check their email via an Outlook.com widget, check on their last Office documents via an Office widget, access their OneDrive files, search for a restaurant via Bing Maps, play a tune via Xbox Music, have a conversation on Skype or even check into Facebook and Twitter.
The content on the MSN site mirror what is available on the Bing apps. Furthermore, if you login into the MSN site with your Microsoft account, then your content is synced across the all the apps. This means when you favorite a recipe on the Food and Drink app, the same recipe will be available across all the devices that you have the app installed (in my case my Windows Phone, my Windows 8 laptop, Windows 8 tablet) and on the MSN website. This is pretty remarkable.
The Bad News
What does this mean for users in Kenya? Unfortunately, until Microsoft finds a local provider of curated high quality digital content, we will be left with the subpar experience from the African Howzit page. We will also not be able to experience the full value of the new MSN experience. At a time that Microsoft is doing all it can to show users the value of its “mobile first and cloud first” initiative, their efforts in Kenya, leave a lot to be desired.