Microsoft’s MSN Web site has been around a long time. And some – even some at Microsoft – would say it looks it.
So the company is fixing to launch what it calls a “refresh” of the MSN site built around a redesign of the home page.
A preview of the redesign is going public Wednesday at http://preview.msn.com. The expectation is that it will go live sometime in the first quarter of 2010.
Portals such as MSN change over the years, but the one thing the big ones consistently try to do is to draw the most number of eyeballs possible. In MSN’s case, the company says, that amounted to 600 million unique visitors worldwide in August.
“This is an important, valuable asset for Microsoft,” Bob Visse, general manager of MSN Product Management group, said of the site.
Still, while Microsoft had tinkered with MSN over the past few years, it had not redesigned it to this extent in a decade, the company said.
The biggest change users will notice is a reduction in the clutter that marked the old site. Visse said the redesigned site has 50 percent fewer links. The readability is also enhanced by a more pronounced airiness on the site, compared with the relatively densely packed look of the current site.
The redesign also reorganizes the site’s content into areas of emphasis: news, sports, entertainment and local (which also includes a local events calendar). “Content is still the No. 1 area of consumption,” Visse said, referring to the how the site focuses on what Microsoft considers core content areas. That contrasts somewhat with the other leading portals, Yahoo and AOL. The former offers technology and applications that allows users to personalize their page more, while the latter emphasizes numerous special interest sites that link from the main page.
Another noticeable component is the prominence accorded Bing, which since its introduction to the market as an improved, newly branded search engine has won a good deal of visibilty. In fact, the Bing presence (Visse said 45 percent of Bing searches come from MSN) was one of the things that underscored the redesign effort, Visse said. The others were Microsoft’s Silverlight technology to play video, Windows Live technology and support for advertisers, especially some of the biggest brands.
In executing the redesign, Visse said, Microsoft examined broad trends of online behavior, and, of course, social networking stood out prominently. That shows up in the new look, with a component that allows users easy access to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as Windows Live communications tools and Hotmail e-mail accounts.