Microsoft's strategy around its MSN.com portal is continuing along a long and winding path.
This week, Microsoft cut some unspecified number of its MSN.com freelancers and contractors. The cuts reportedly are not affecting full-time MSN.com employees -- the number of which is expected to grow -- according to a statement Microsoft provided to The Seattle Times. The cuts are seemingly a result of budget-tightening, post-reorg.
(Microsoft isn't commenting on the MSN.com job cuts beyond what company representatives told The Seattle Times, a spokesperson said.)
The cuts follow a recent Business Insider story that claimed that earlier this year, Microsoft unsuccessfully attempted to sell MSN.com to Yahoo in exchange for Yahoo's search business. Even before this week's job cuts, that report had me wondering whether Microsoft might be seeking to sell off MSN.com.
MSN.com doesn't really look to fit easily with the rest of the devices- and services-focused Microsoft -- despite the fact that MSN.com still accounts for hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month.
Apparently, as part of the cross-company Microsoft reorg, announced in July, Microsoft moved MSN.com into its Applications and Services organization under Qi Lu. Based on what Microsoft told the Seattle Times, the company has combined MSN.com and the Bing AppEx team -- which developed a number of consumer-focused Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps -- and the two are now part of a new Microsoft Apps, Media and Publishing Group.
Last year, Microsoft created a new version of the MSN.com site that was customized for use with Windows 8, Windows RT, and IE 10. That version had a Metro-Style look and feel and was optimized for touch. It also featured MSN News, an updated news portal featuring AP and Reuters news, along with content from Microsoft's own reporters. Microsoft staffed up with its own reporters following its sell-off of its 50 percent stake in the Microsoft-NBC MSNBC joint venture in 2012.
The game plan, a year ago, was for Microsoft to field, at some point, MSN apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Microsoft already offers a Windows 8 Bing News app. The company said that Bing News was designed to be an aggregated news source, while the MSN portal is meant to deliver content, but also highlight and demonstrate other Microsoft technologies, like Bing search, Skype, Outlook.com, and so on.
MSN has gone through various positioning changes over the years. Before Microsoft decided to focus on MSN as one of its major vehicles for consumer outreach, advertising, and search, Microsoft almost decided to exit the portal business completely. In 2008, Microsoft made MSN part of the combined Search, Portal and Advertising Group. In an e-mail to employees, Satya Nadella (who was then senior vice president of R&D for Online Services) said MSN was Microsoft's single largest source of ad revenue.
This story originally appeared as "What's next for Microsoft's MSN.com?" on ZDNet.