Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

MSN Preps for Major Renovation, Focusing on Five Verticals, as It "Does Less Better"


The edging-ever-closer-to-consummation deal talks with Yahoo about an online advertising and search partnership and the aggressive marketing of its new Bing search service aren’t the only things going on for Microsoft’s online services business these days.

MSN, Microsoft’s online portal, is also preparing a major redo of what U.S. and, possibly, international consumers will see, as it doubles down on five key content verticals, while cutting back on others.

In a new focus that will start to be apparent in the next month, MSN will heavily add to its News, Sports, Finance, Lifestyle and Entertainment offerings, weaving more data from Bing into the mix.

“It’s a decision to make it so MSN does less better,” said one source close to the situation. “So there will be a focus of attention on a smaller number of categories in which we can be either #1 or #2 in, rather than #4 or #5.”

And despite big traffic, that has been the rank Microsoft (MSFT) has achieved for a lot of its vertical categories. It competes against the dominant Yahoo (YHOO) and also Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL, as well as a range of independent sites.

The refurbishment is being led by Scott Moore, the former Yahoo media exec who came back to Microsoft earlier this year to help juice its prospects.

That does not mean Microsoft is abandoning noncompetitive arenas, such as tech, though. Instead, its offerings in those verticals will be more automated, less original, using content from many partners, and also will rely on mixing in shopping and data from Bing.

“It is not rip and replace,” said another source. “It is putting a lot of scale where we can compete best and using technology tools to help elsewhere.”

In fact, the idea of linking content properties to search in a push-and-pull manner is a strategy that both AOL and Yahoo have also been honing, especially since their own highly trafficked sites are the prime ways they have grown search, and vice versa, on content.

Bing has taken a very interesting niche approach to search, aiming to provide a richer experience in key verticals, like entertainment and travel, in order to differentiate its offering from search behemoth Google (GOOG).

In an interview with paidContent last month, MSN Corporate VP Erik Jorgensen signaled some of the changes now coming, discussing the cleaning up of its homepage, more tightly integrating Bing and MSN, making it easier to share on social networking sites, focusing content and allowing users to even customize it.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik