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MSN's 'stuffing the tail back into the head' strategy

MSN doesn't think the portal is dead. Quite the opposite, in fact, says its chief media officer.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--In the wake of Yahoo's corporate troubles, and the long-ago collapses of sites and services like AltaVista, Excite, and others, some may be tempted to think that the era of the portal has come and gone.

Not so, says Microsoft's MSN.

In fact, Joanne Bradford, MSN's corporate vice president and chief media officer, said that around her shop, people look at all kinds of sites, including Facebook,, and YouTube as portals, and that these days, MSN's own plan revolves around a portal-like existence.

"Everything is starting to look like portals," Bradford said Wednesday at the Dow Jones Consumer Technology Innovations conference here. "We call it the stuffing the tail back into the head strategy."

She was referring to the reverse of the so-called long-tail effect.

For Bradford, who was interviewed on-stage at the conference by Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Delaney, we're in a new era where Web users want data and information filtered for them.

"People want you to do it for them," she said. "They're lazy. It's a society of convenience."

Fortunately, she suggested, MSN is here to help.

And in doing so, Bradford seemed to suggest, MSN is helping to create a dynamic where the most important and relevant information is presented to users, rather than relying on the long-tail to satisfy large numbers of users who want less popular information.

And by presenting the most important information in a way that is accessible and relevant, MSN is hoping it can benefit by similarly attracting top advertisers.

"The growth is still there," she said. "Advertisers want the head. Advertisers will still pay 10x for the head instead of the tail."

And while MSN is operating in the middle of a time when many people do see portals as having gone the way of the dot-com start-up with no viable business plan, that's just fine with Bradford and her colleagues.

They may not shout to the world that they're doing so, she seemed to be saying, but by pursuing partnerships with all kinds of content developers that will make MSN relevant to the widest number of its users, MSN's decision-makers do appear to be relying on the basic portal structure.

"I don't mind that people say that portals are dead," she said, "because it lets us do a bunch of experimentation without being under the spotlight."