Kara Swisher

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Clutter-Free, Twittified, Binged (and Also Apple-icious): The New MSN Homepage Debuts (Plus Screenshots and the Press Release)

Home Page Screenshot

The new MSN homepage debuts tonight and you would be completely correct in thinking the recipe Microsoft (MSFT) has cooked up to inform its design ethos–white, clean and hiply modern–has definite echoes of a certain longtime tech rival.

That would be Apple (AAPL), of course, with a big dollop of Twitter and Facebook tossed in, and finished off with a generous sprinkling of Microsoft’s new Bing search service.

For those who care: The MSN butterfly logo remains, although it appears to have lost a lot of weight too.

(You can view a preview of the site here.)

The launch is the first major upgrade of the MSN main page in–if you can believe it–a decade, part of an overhaul that the software giant has been doing throughout its money-losing online services division.

That has included the launch of Bing in May, which has been a success for Microsoft, adding a small amount of search market share and, more importantly, some much needed respect to its long-beleaguered consumer Web efforts.

The company’s online execs are trying to keep up the innovation momentum with the new MSN redesign and–as you can see below from the various screenshots–it is a major shift for the portal site.

Together, MSN and Windows Live have about 100 million unique monthly visitors, putting Microsoft typically third behind Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO).

The company hopes to do better with a fresher MSN, which is clearly aimed, first and foremost, at clearing up the clutter and link-heavy old MSN homepage.

MSN execs said the new main page has about half the “blue” links.

(See a video interview I also did with MSN exec Bob Visse about all of this here, along with other videos Microsoft did with its MSN staff.)

The top of the new page features a big image module, with inline video and drastically reduced topic areas–as BoomTown has previously reported–limited to news, sports, entertainment, money and lifestyle.

msnn

Under that is a more customizable news module, to which feature tabs can also be added, such as for the World Series or–prolonged sigh–Balloon Boy coverage.

On the bottom left is a much-goosed local module that resolves to beefed-up local sites, which is right next another section featuring Bing top searches.

Bing is present in every part of the site now, with Microsoft stressing it and using its structured data to improve the consumer experience.

That’s important for Bing search too, since MSN provides 45 percent of its traffic.

Communications modules are to the right, midpage and on the bottom.

Unlike AOL and Yahoo, which have added the ability to put third-party email on their homepages, only Hotmail is now available on the new MSN, although this is likely to change soon.

But perhaps the design element that will garner the most attention is the prominent placement of both Twitter and Facebook tabs in the bottom communications module, right next to one for Windows Live.

This allows users to update their status and get instant access to the status of friends and followers.

“We wanted to cut the clutter, while also giving users one convenient place to find what they need quickly,” said Scott Moore, executive producer of MSN in the U.S., its most important market, in an interview earlier today with me.

“People are overloaded with information and they wanted us to fix that, even if the service is not ours.”

The focus on Facebook and Twitter was simply due to intense user interest in the popular social networking sites.

“Facebook has popped and Twitter was really growing,” said Moore, who noted that there was the possibility of adding other third-party apps in the future.

A heavy emphasis on apps was a key strategy of Yahoo’s homepage redesign, officially launched in late July, which SVP Tapan Bhat touted at an meeting with analysts last week as having increased page views and engagement.

Advertising on the page is perhaps the most conservative part, with units that remain largely as before.

The new MSN homepage will begin rolling out now, eventually reaching about 10 percent of users by early next year. After that, it is expected to become widely available to U.S. customers and then go worldwide.

Here are screenshots of the changes to peruse (click on top three images to make them larger):

Old Homepage:

msn2

New Homepage:

Home Page Screenshot

Local Edition:

MSN Local Edition Screenshot

Twitter Section:

Twitter Screenshot

Facebook Section:

Facebook Screenshot

And here is the official Microsoft press release:

New MSN Designed to Be the Best Home Page on the Web

Fresh, new design delivers best of Bing, latest in news and entertainment, instant access to Facebook and Twitter, and customized local information in one place.

REDMOND, Wash.–Nov. 3, 2009–Microsoft Corp. today unveiled a preview of its most significant home page redesign in over a decade. The new MSN home page is designed to be the best home page on the Web, with powerful Bing search, the top news and hottest entertainment, and some of the most popular social networks–all in a fresh new look. The new home page will deliver comprehensive local information from the new MSN local information offering, MSN Local Edition, also unveiled today. Beginning today, anyone can preview the new home page at http://preview.msn.com. The new home page will begin rolling out today and become widely available to U.S. customers early next year.

Ninety percent of people surveyed find home pages such as MSN to be valuable, and they like the convenience of a comprehensive site.* Nearly 100 million people in the U.S. visit MSN every single month, and MSN added over 10 million new customers in the last year alone. However, today’s sites often fall short of top customer needs and many haven’t kept up with evolving trends. Extensive customer research highlights that people want less clutter and easier access to information and services they care about, including search services that help them make decisions easier and faster.

“Now is the time to clean up the mess on the Web–people need less clutter and less hassle to find what matters most to them,” said Erik Jorgensen, corporate vice president, Microsoft. “Microsoft is uniquely invested in search, media experiences and technical innovation. Combining these assets to deliver our new MSN home page is a tremendous win for customers and advertisers.”

The clean, new MSN home page cuts through the clutter with 50 percent fewer links than the previous home page and a simplified navigation across news, entertainment, sports, money and lifestyle. The new MSN home page also embraces the latest customer trends by deeply integrating powerful search from Bing and providing easy access to Facebook, Twitter and Windows Live services, comprehensive local information and in-line video. Sophisticated technology powers the home page to deliver personally relevant information, and improved performance satisfies people’s need for speed.

New key features of the MSN home page include these:

* Innovative search technology from Bing. Deeper Bing integration on the new home page helps people make faster and more informed decisions and easily find the information they want from anywhere on the Web. Bing is deeply integrated as the core search service throughout the home page via key areas such as shopping, travel and local, and as a way of highlighting hot topics, trends or people.

* Information and news people care about. The new home page delivers against the No. 1 customer request–simplicity and ease of use–through its fresh design and smart categorization. In-line high-quality, top news and hot entertainment from trustworthy sources such as MSNBC, FOX Sports, Hulu and Hearst, and comprehensive local information provide a compelling one-stop shop for people to use as their home base online. More in-depth local information is offered on the new MSN Local Edition, which is the only local online source that smartly combines media with Bing search and provides access to real-time community news that is grouped by ZIP code.

* Convenient ways to communicate. Simplicity drove the clean integration of popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Windows Live “What’s New,” which aggregates up to 50 Web activities, including Yelp, Flickr, Pandora and more, onto the MSN home page. People no longer have to jump from site to site to update their status, tweets or see what their friends are up to; the new home page makes it easy to view and update in-line.

“Customers told us they want the latest information from their favorite sources, their friends and the breadth of the Web–and the new MSN home page delivers via a fresh new look and new features,” Jorgensen said. “Today is an important transformation for MSN, and it’s just the beginning.”


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