Trying to tap into the national conversation, Microsoft is launching a new service today, msnNOW, that algorithmically curates the most shared content on the Web and presents it to users on a new Web site, a Facebook reader and on mobile phone browsers.
The new service uses algorithms created by Microsoft to scour Facebook, Twitter, Bing, and BreakingNews.com to cull the most-shared articles among users in real time. About 20 editors will monitor the data, typing up blurbs, in 100 words or less, describing the stories and posting the links.
"We're taking the hottest, socially trending conversations on the Web and surfacing them," said Bob Visse, general manager of MSN.
In some cases, the editors will annotate the pieces, correcting false information. So if a story they know to be false is trending--say, inaccurate reports of a celebrity's demise--they'll note that but still post the links that are being widely shared. They'll also lightly sanitize the feed, editing out the most lurid and offensive content.
But msnNOW won't be puritanical. In a demo earlier this week, msnNOW surfaced an article from China about a "wedding" between a ram and a doe, including a picture of the happy couple consummating its nuptials. Another trending article about dresses that highlight "butt cleavage" included a picture of a woman wearing a dress with her butt showing.
For Microsoft, the idea is to draw uses, particularly those between the ages of 25 and 40, to its service and keep them there. Those users have been reared on Web-delivered news that they can consume quickly.
"This is for that younger generation that doesn't spend more than five to ten minutes at a time info-snacking," Visse said. "We're putting fuel on a conversation."
Though MSN trails Yahoo and Google, it remains a widely used service. MSN is available in 48 markets and in 27 languages. It has more than 520 million users worldwide, who click on more than 22 billion pages a month. And they stream more than 500 million videos from the site. Microsoft hopes to tap that audience for the new service.
msnNOW won't have ads initially. But Microsoft intends to sell them as msnNOW gains momentum. Visse also expects the service to drive use of Microsoft's Bing search engine, since users can click on trending topics under the heading "Biggest Movers" that will provide search results from Bing.
Microsoft cut no deals to get access to the data. Rather, it developed the service using publicly available feeds from Facebook and Twitter. Then, it created algorithms to pluck the most shared links from those feeds.
The service also sorts stories under topic headings that are familiar even if they have somewhat novel names. Stories under "Fame" will focus on celebrity gossip and entertainment news. "Soul" will zero in on health, beauty, and love. "Sweat" will look at sports buzz. "Cash" will track the latest in money and business. And "Wire" will include the latest on the big stories of the day.
In addition to the new site--now.msn.com--Microsoft is also launching the msnNOW Facebook reader that users of the social network can log into to find the latest buzz. And the service will work on any mobile browser.
Microsoft has no current plans to launch an msnNOW app for Windows Phone or any other mobile operating system. The service is currently available only in the United States.