Home The New MSN: Will More White Space and Local News Make You Visit It?

The New MSN: Will More White Space and Local News Make You Visit It?

Microsoft just announced a radical redesign of its MSN homepage. Today’s MSN homepage for the US market is a busy mix of ads, hundreds of links and some customizable local news and weather widgets. The redesign, which is MSN’s first major redesign since 2004, puts a new emphasis on search, local news, video and integration with social networks. The new page features more white space, a tabbed design and a new MSN logo.

In the US, MSN is one of the top 5 most visited sites on the net with about 100 million visitors per month. According to Microsoft, the MSN homepage is the #1 homepage in 26 markets. This is the first major redesign of MSN since Microsoft introduced the current look in 2004.

The company plans to roll this redesign out slowly over the next few weeks – though all users will be able to switch to the new site through a link on the old homepage.

Fewer Links – Less Clutter

To make the site less busy, Microsoft has reduced the number of links by 50%. In the old design, the categories were organized in dozens of boxes. This gave the page a very busy look. Microsoft now uses tabs that give the site a more modern look and which also reduce clutter.

The new MSN puts a lot of emphasis on search. The new homepage doesn’t just feature a Bing search box on the top. The new MSN has another search box at the bottom of the page and Microsoft also integrated Bing shopping and travel search in other sections of the site.

MSN Users Don’t Want Customization

When we talked to Lisa Gurry, Microsoft’s senior director of MSN, she told us that only a very small number of MSN’s users actually wanted to spend a lot of time customizing the site. Because of this, the MSN team decided to automate this customization as much as possible through a reverse IP lookup. Through this, the homepage automatically displays local news and weather reports based on a user’s location. Those users who want to customize their MSN experience extensively can continue to use the MyMSN homepage.

Flawed Execution: Facebook and Twitter Integration

Microsoft also added some new social networking functionality to the MSN homepage. Users can now track updates from their friends on Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live. MSN’s users can also send status updates right from the MSN homepage. According to Microsoft, 52% of MSN users are on Facebook and 14% are on Twitter.

A few key features are missing from the Twitter integration, though. There is no character count, for example, and no easy way to shrink URLs. There is also no way to see or send direct messages or @replies.

While the Facebook widget at least features a ‘comment’ link, users are still taken to Facebook’s own site to write their comments.

Overall, the social network integration could be a lot more interesting if the MSN team just added a few features. MSN is obviously trying to attract mainstream users who don’t follow thousands of Twitter users, but even the most mainstream Twitter user expects to see a reply button in a Twitter client. AOL’s homepage allows users to reply right from the Twitter widget.

Local News

The new site now puts a lot of emphasis on local news. The new local edition features extended weather reports, movie times, concerts, restaurant reviews and information about local gas prices. For restaurant reviews, Microsoft takes users to Bing’s local search.

Radical Change

The new design is a radical departure from the old MSN and some users who were accustomed to the old site will surely feel disoriented when they wake up to the new design.

Among the large homepages like Yahoo and AOL, the new MSN now sports the most modern look. This is not a highly customizable, Netvibes-style homepage, but MSN’s users aren’t asking for this.

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