Microsoft ups portal efforts

The giant continues its portal push with several announcements aimed at gearing up its generally late-to-market MSN site.

3 min read
Microsoft is continuing its portal push this week with several announcements aimed at gearing up its generally late-to-market MSN site.

Today the software giant announced a new beta site for its MSN portal. Tomorrow it will launch what it calls MSN Web Communities, and later this week it will be gearing up its international expansion.

While Microsoft is fairly late in the portal game, observers have said that it still can pose a major threat because of its deep pockets.

After months of Portalopoly code-naming its portal effort "Start," Microsoft in August anointed the site with a new name borrowed from its old online service property: MSN. The online service is still called MSN for the Microsoft Network but the portal effort is simply called MSN, said Janet Angell, group product manager for MSN.

The names that companies choose to call their portals can help make or break a given property, as their success or failure largely depends on average users associating their Internet experience with a known brand.

Yahoo and America Online are examples of two of the Web's best-known brands. But Microsoft stands out because of the broad reach of its name recognition, since it is involved in so many aspects of computing from its Windows operating systems to its Internet Explorer browser and its myriad other software offerings. Clearly, by using MSN, the giant is leveraging its ubiquitous brand name.

Angell said market tests showed that MSN alone "does portray Microsoft to the consumers quite well." The site is slated to come out of beta in October, she added.

But getting a good name is only the beginning. Portals have to attract users and then keep them on their sites. Many are trying to do that by adding "sticky" items, such as free email, personalization, chat, and aggregated content such as stock quotes, for example.

Microsoft will be adding one of the most popular portal features right now--the ability to build home pages, said a Microsoft spokesman. Meanwhile, it will be repackaging and beefing up its message boards from its Web forums on MSN--its current online service--and its various other services such as travel service Expedia, Investor, and MSNBC.

The boards will be called MSN Web communities and will include Web-based chat monitored full-time by community managers.

Today's announcements once again mark the radical departure Microsoft has made since it relaunched its online service MSN.com two years ago. Since then, Microsoft has abandoned the idea of a closed-door Web community based on entertainment and has instead embraced a more open Web strategy based on searching and community.

Microsoft has maintained from the start, however, its idea of creating vertical brands such as Expedia, from which it could build up its consumer e-commerce business, and has focused on building a network in which all its various brands will be tied together as much as possible.

Today's news also comes on top of last week's in which MSN reached agreements worth $60 million with four Net companies to provide searches on a rotating basis.