What's next for Microsoft's MSN.com?

What's next for Microsoft's MSN.com?

Summary: As budgets tighten and priorities are realigned in the newly reorganized Microsoft, MSN.com has cut loose some of its non-full-time employees.

TOPICS: Windows 8, Microsoft

Microsoft's strategy around its MSN.com portal is continuing along a long and winding path.


This week, Microsoft cut some unspecified number of its MSN.com freelancers and contractors. The cuts reportedly are not affecting full-time-employee MSN.com employees -- the number of which is expected to grow -- according to a statement Microsoft provided to The Seattle Times. The cuts are seemingly a result of budget-tightening, post-reorg.

(Microsoft officials aren't commenting on the MSN.com job cuts beyond what company officials told The Seattle Times, a spokesperson said.)

The cuts follow a recent Business Insider story that claimed, earlier this year, Microsoft unsuccessfully attempted to sell MSN.com to Yahoo in exchange for Yahoo's search business. Even before this week's job cuts, that report had me wondering whether Microsoft might be seeking to sell off MSN.com.

MSN.com doesn't really look to fit easily with the rest of the devices- and services-focused Microsoft -- despite the fact that MSN.com still accounts for more than 100 million unique visitors each month.

Apparently, as part of the cross-company Microsoft reorg, announced in July, Microsoft moved MSN.com into its Applications and Services organization under Qi Lu. Based on what Microsoft told the Seattle Times, Microsoft has combined MSN.com and the Bing AppEx team -- which developed a number of consumer-focused Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps -- and the two are now part of a new Microsoft Apps, Media and Publishing Group.

Last year, Microsoft created a new version of the MSN.com site that was customized for use with Windows 8, Windows RT and IE 10. That verion had a Metro-Style look and feel and was optimized for touch. It also featured MSN News, an updated news portal featuring AP and Reuters news, along with content from Microsoft's own reporters. Microsoft staffed up with its own reporters following Microsoft's sell-off of its 50 percent stake in the Microsoft-NBC MSNBC joint venture in 2012.

The game plan, a year ago, was for Microsoft to field, at some point, MSN apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Microsoft already offers a Windows 8 Bing News app. Officials said that Bing News was designed to be an aggregated news source, while the MSN portal is meant to deliver content, but also highlight and demonstrate other Microsoft technologies, like Bing search, Skype, Outlook.com, etc.

MSN has gone through various positioning changes over the years. Before Microsoft decided to focus on MSN as one of its major vehicles for consumer outreach, advertising and search, Microsoft almost decided to exit the portal business completely. In 2008, Microsoft made MSN part of the combined Search, Portal and Advertising Group. In an e-mail to employees, Satya Nadella (who was then Senior Vice President of R&D for Online Services) said MSN was Microsoft’s single largest source of ad revenue.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Be dumb to sell it when it's making them 100's of millions of $ a year.

    Id take that any day of the week. The IE10 version does need a make over though. The image tiles are ok but the plain text ones have got to go. And so does whoever thought they'd be a good idea in the first place.
    Johnny Vegas
    • That isn't dollars...

      That is "more than 100 million unique visitors".

      The only way that could translate 100's of millions of dollars is if EACH visitor resulted in add revenue of $1. Every month...

      And since there is less and less new content...

      Very likely the expenses have been higher than the income.
      • The Only Reason 100m per month

        Is because most Windows users are too dumb to change from the default MSN homepage.
        Alan Smithie
        • Regardless

          It is web traffic that translates into readers and ad revenue.
    • But with so many news sites and what not

      is it really worth it to focus any energy on MSN?
      William Farrel
      • It depends

        Where do you think the employees who have nothing better to do than ra ra Microsoft on zdnet all day come from?
        • They come from mainstream society.

          Not from msn. The fact that a truth like that runs counter to the beliefs of the ABMer's makes it a problem they have to deal with, not anyone else.
          William Farrel
    • MSN the best

      MSN is my best home page and Google is the most boring home page for me!
      • Unless you missed it, MSN is a news aggregate.

        Googles home page is a search entry...
        • News aggregate and search

          Or did you not notice the Bing search right at the top center?
  • MSN.com

    It should be rebranded as Bing.
  • The future of Xbox Live and MSN

    One thing I wish MS would do, is combine the Windows 8 apps, Games, Music, and Video into one app, and try to get people to subscribe to combinations of the three. As far as video content is concerned, I believe MS should create a network (e.g. Microsoft Broadcasting Corporation) and feature a corresponding app, and try and to get people to subscribe to the network through Xbox Live, as well as to other entertainment apps found on the Xbox. I believe a lot of people are dying to cut the cable box out of their lives, and the above arrangement would give them that opportunity - and this could cause Xbox Live memberships to boom. The really big payoff of Xbox Live, will be when MS brings / adapts the Xbox Live experience to the PC. Xbox One sounds very exciting, but I believe Xbox Live on the PC will be far more important financially.

    It is very important that MS take an "all you can eat" approach to Xbox Live on the PC, where people are able to go to one place, to gain access to a myriad of content. Splitting things up into 3 separate apps (Games, Music, Video) and not having subscriptions covering all three, undermines the build up of these services, because they are not able to reinforce each other, and continually engage users. (E.g. a gamer may not be into video entertainment, but you'll be able to hook him into the system through gaming. Many adults may be more into video and music entertainment, and you would be able hook them into the system through these areas. Consumer telephony and collaboration could be offered through Xbox Live. Ebooks, eperiodicals, electronic encyclopedias, etc. There should be something in Xbox Live that will get most people to subscribe.) The one Xbox Live app should become a metaphoric gravity well, sucking people in.

    I think MS should consider buying Barnes and Noble, and incorporating the company's digital properties into Xbox Live. MS could then work to shift publishing into ever more engaging reading experiences, and could use Barnes and Noble's digital content as a gateway to the wider Xbox Live subscription ecosystem. Over time, Barnes and Noble stores could be outfitted with tablets and large touch screens, to engage users to consume new and featured content, and to showcase new Xbox Live services. The stores could also feature MS devices.

    If Xbox Live really takes off, I believe MS should take a gamble and transition MSN's content into Xbox Live exclusively. If this works out, I believe MS should try and convince all publishers who want to make decent money from their IP, to transition off the web to Xbox Live.

    So the whole idea is to turn a single Xbox Live Windows 8, into a browser for premium content users subscribe to, which delivers experiences that far exceed web browsers.
    P. Douglas
  • Why is Microsoft making content?

    MSN was originally an attempt to have an internet-like network in the same style as Apple's eWorld. These were supposed to be alternatives to the internet. Since then, MSN has meandered, looking for business models.
    • eworld was insignificant

      and really no factor in the creation of msn.
      John Zern
  • The Last Leftovers From “Project Blackbird”

    Remember the early days of the WWW? Several big corporations (Microsoft included) assumed they could push aside this pipsqueak HTML open-standard nonsense and replace it with a REAL proprietary content-delivery platform. Quark had Immedia, and Microsoft had MSN and Project Blackbird.

    Of course, none of that succeeded. What the owners of the proprietary content-distribution channels failed to appreciate then (and still don't understand now) is that the Internet is about connectivity, not content.
    • The trouble back then ...

      The problem with efforts like AOL, MSN, etc. back in the day, was that their experiences were nowhere as good as the web. The web experience was slicker, more expansive, offered more capabilities, etc. Xbox Live will need to differentiate based primarily on providing substantially better user experiences and services, and also quality content not found on the web. Also MS will have to convince producers of premium written and other content, to abandon the web, since the web devalues their IP, and move into Xbox Live, where hundreds of millions of people willing to pay, will be able to gain access to their IP.

      When I talk about an Xbox Live browser, I'm merely talking about a UI that provides access to various apps running locally on a user's device. The Xbox Live UI would provide unified access, and a sense of coherency and connectedness to all the content in apps running locally on a user's devices. I believe MS needs to solidify the relevancy of its client OSs and distinguish experiences on its client platforms, by making content and other apps client heavy, and hence super rich, responsive, and engaging. (Taking the route of doing less processing on the client is a recipe for irrelevance, less PC upgrade cycles, and decreased opportunities for MS to differentiate itself from the competition through superior user experiences, and other unique local capabilities.)
      P. Douglas
      • Re: The web experience was slicker

        No it wasn't. The proprietary platforms were slicker, and far more sophisticated. Have you forgotten how limited HTML was in those days?

        Like I said, it wasn't the content that drove the Web to dominance.
        • The connectivity to what?

          To content, that is what. AOL, Prodigy: these where the sites people went to, where they could read and connect with content that they could not do so before.
          John Zern
          • Re: The connectivity to what?

            To each other. And AWAY from the premier content-providing "value-added networks" like Compuserve, AOL, Prodigy and the others. That's why none of them now exists--not in their original form.
        • Yes, the web experience was better

          At about the mid 90s, I found the web to be slicker and overall superior than MSN and AOL - AOL in particular, which was my ISP at the time. Web pages loaded faster than the different sections of these programs; many web pages had better designs which included gorgeous pictures, etc. Email clients had better designs, that were more flexible in the services they could support, etc. That is why people left the confines of the MSN and AOL clients, and branched out into the web.

          It is the same thing with gated communities, shopping centers, and clubs. If the gated communities are better than the surrounding areas or cities, people will want to get in. If the gated communities are worse than the surrounding areas or cities, people will want to get out, or will have no interest in getting in.
          P. Douglas