2014-9-9 msn redesigned portal.jpgTwo decades after it launched MSN, Microsoft is applying its "mobile-first, cloud-first" direction to the MSN portal, which it claims has over 425 million users daily. The enhanced personalization capabilities will provide advertisers with a single place to buy space that can be synched across devices and audiences.

Redesigning MSN

The design of MSN up until the release of Monday’s preview looked a bit old fashioned. It also didn’t reflect the ongoing development of Microsoft portfolio, nor Microsoft’s ambition for MSN to become more than a portal to the Internet, but also an everyday part of users’ lives.

Brian MacDonald, Microsoft's corporate vice president for information and content experiences, explained in a blog post exactly what the thinking behind the redesign was:

We have rebuilt MSN from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The new MSN brings together the world’s best media sources along with data and services … It focuses on the primary digital daily habits in people’s lives and helps them complete tasks across all of their devices. Information and personalized settings are roamed through the cloud to keep users in the know wherever they are.”

By its nature, this means a personalized user experience that is the same, no matter what device you are operating on. With that in mind, Microsoft is planning to release a number of MSN apps in the coming months that will cover all the mobile platforms:

One of our goals was to make it simple to personalize what you want to see regardless of which device you use. In the coming months, we will release a suite of MSN apps across iOS and Android to complement our corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps."

The result is that you only have to set your content, or design your page once, and it will apply across all devices whether Windows, Android or iOS. It also means that once you have set your favorites, your preferences will be carried across MSN, Cortana and Bing to create a unique experience for all devices.

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New panels for personalization options

The Name of the Game is Access

What do you get with the new design? First, you get a homepage that will not only take you to your preferred content, but will also allow access to your other Microsoft apps and services. The new Services Stripe enables users to access their email, OneDrive, Facebook, Twitter, Office 365 and Skype simply by hovering over them.

The design is considerably clearer than it was in the previous version, making content easier to find and streamlined according to personal preferences and needs.

Microsoft stated that it has partnered with some of best known content providers inside and outside of the US to ensure that users have access to the content they need. Users can pick and choose which content streams they wish to appear in their view.

Some of those partners include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN and AOL (including TechCrunch and the Huffington Post). Outside of the US, partners include Sky News and the Guardian in the UK as well as Le Figaro and Le Monde in France.

Advertising Built into the Portal

This update isn't just about providing a better user experience, however important that experience is. Frank Holland, corporate vice president of advertising and online business at Microsoft says that if the whole experience has been reimagined for a mobile world, the new MSN will connect people with content and also advertisers with potential customers. He explained in a separate post on the Microsoft advertising website:

For brands, [the new portal] this means unprecedented access to a loyal audience on a single, personalized, premium platform that combines the massive reach of the web with the deep engagement of applications across all mobile operating systems. And advertisers will enjoy added buying simplicity with the familiar MSN standard ad mix:

  • PC Web
  • Mobile Browse
  • Tablet & Windows
  • Native Mobile Apps"

What About Mobile Advertising?

This looks like a sneaky attempt to capture a mobile advertising market that to date has been dominated by Google. Over the years, Google has upgraded and enhanced its services across the board wherever it thought it might be able to turn a buck in mobile advertising.

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Redesigned topics

Last year, Google focused on finding a solution to the falling price of mobile adds. It has managed to stem the effect of the drop with a number of solutions, including the novel solution of selling more ads.

However, it's still Google's market to lose, so it is unlikely to welcome a new and better MSN portal that has the potential to increase Microsoft’s share of this lucrative market. The new portal is still only in preview -- expect to see tweaks in the coming weeks.

Microsoft hasn’t announced when the preview period will end, but the fresher, cleaner look will make some happy for now.