In 1998, the largely underutilized ‘MSN.com’ domain name was combined with Microsoft Internet Start and reinvented as both a web portal and as the brand for a family of sites produced inside Microsoft’s Interactive Media Group. The new website put MSN in direct competition with sites such as Yahoo! and Go Network. Because the new format opened up MSN’s content to the world for free, the Internet service provider and subscription service was renamed MSN Internet Access at that time. (That service eventually became known as MSN Dial-up.)
The relaunched MSN.com contained a whole family of sites, including original content, channels that were carried over from ‘web shows’ that were part of Microsoft’s MSN 2.0 experiment with its Internet service provider in 1996-97, and new features that were rapidly added. MSN.com became the successor to the default Internet Explorer start page, as all of the previous ‘Microsoft Internet Start’ website was merged with MSN.com.
Some of the original websites that Microsoft launched during that era remain active in some form today. Microsoft Investor, a business news and investments service that was once produced in conjunction with CNBC, is now MSN Money; CarPoint, an automobile comparison and shopping service, is now MSN Autos; and the Internet Gaming Zone, a website offering online casual games, is now MSN Games. Other websites since divested by Microsoft include the travel website Expedia, the online magazine Slate, and the local event and city search website Sidewalk.com.
In the late 1990s, Microsoft collaborated with many other service providers, as well as other Microsoft departments, to expand the range of MSN’s services. Some examples include MSN adCenter, MSN Shopping (affiliated with eBay, PriceGrabber and Shopping.com), and the Encarta encyclopedia with various levels of access to information.
Since then, MSN.com has remained a popular destination, launching many new services and content sites. MSN’s Hotmail and Messenger services were promoted from the MSN.com portal, which provided a central place for all of MSN’s content. MSN Search (now Bing), a dedicated search engine, launched in 1999. The single sign-in service for Microsoft’s online services, Microsoft Passport (now Microsoft account), also launched across all MSN services in 1999. The MSN.com portal and related group of services under the ‘MSN’ umbrella remained largely the same in the early 2000s.
The sports section of the MSN portal was ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004, and FoxSports.com from 2004 to 2014. MSN had an exclusive partnership with msnbc.com for news content from 1996 until 2012, when Microsoft sold its remaining stake in msnbc.com to NBCUniversal and the website was renamed NBCNews.com. Since then, MSN has launched ‘MSN News’, an in-house news operation.
MSN released a preview of an updated home page and logo on November 3, 2009. It was originally expected to be widely available to over 100 million U.S. customers by early 2010. MSN rolled out the newer logo, together with a redesign of the overall website, on December 25, 2009.
In 2012, MSN announced on its blog that it would be unveiling a new version of the MSN.com home page on October 26, exclusively for Windows 8, saying that the new version would be “clean, simple, and built for touch.” Microsoft said it would be more app-like due to the speed of Internet Explorer 10. More new features included ‘Flip Ahead’, which allowed users to swipe from one article to the next. MSN for Windows 8 also had new deals with the AP and Reuters.
Rebranding of services
Many of MSN’s services were reorganized in 2005 and 2006 under a new brand name that Microsoft championed at the time, Windows Live. This move was part of Microsoft’s strategy to improve its online offerings using the Windows brand name. The company also overhauled its online software and services due to increasing competition from rivals such as Yahoo! and Google. The new name was introduced one service at a time. The group of Windows Live services used Web 2.0 technology to offer features and functionality through a web browser that were traditionally only available through dedicated software programs.
Some of the MSN services affected by the rebranding included MSN Hotmail, which became Windows Live Hotmail (now Outlook.com); MSN Messenger, which became Windows Live Messenger (now integrated into Skype); MSN Search, which became Live Search (now known as Bing); MSN Virtual Earth, which became Live Search Maps (now Bing Maps); MSN Spaces, which became Windows Live Spaces; MSN Alerts, which became Windows Live Alerts; and MSN Groups, which became Windows Live Groups. Some other services, such as MSN Direct, remained a part of the MSN family without transitioning to Windows Live.
Following the launch of Windows Live, the MSN brand took on a different focus. MSN became primarily an online content provider of news, entertainment, and common interest topics through its web portal, MSN.com, while Windows Live provided most of Microsoft’s online software and services. In 2012, Microsoft began to phase out the Windows Live brand, referring to each service separately by its individual brand name without any ‘Windows’ prefix or association.
Microsoft launched a completely rewritten and redesigned MSN website, making use of the company’s modern design language, on September 30, 2014. The new MSN portal features a new version of the logo that follows a style similar to other current Microsoft products. The website no longer offers original content, instead employing editors to repurpose existing content from partners at popular and trusted organizations. Much of the existing content on MSN was eliminated as the website was simplified into a new home page and categories, most of which have corresponding apps:
- News: The latest news headlines and articles from a variety of hand-picked sources. Syncs with the MSN News app.
- Weather: Current weather conditions, forecasts, maps, news, and traffic. Syncs with the MSN Weather app.
- Entertainment: TV, movies, music, and celebrity news, as well as theater showtimes, tickets, and TV listings. Based on the former Bing Entertainment service. Also includes the MSN Games website for online casual games.
- Sports: Up-to-the-minute scores, standings, and headlines from leagues worldwide. Syncs with the MSN Sports app.
- Money: Stock market tickers and watchlists, personal finance, real estate, investments, currency converter, and more. Syncs with the MSN Money app.
- Lifestyle: Headlines, features, and other content related to style, home & garden, family, smart living, relationships, and horoscopes.
- Health & Fitness: Tools and information about weight loss, strength, exercise, nutrition, medicine, and more.
- Food & Drink: Recipes, cooking tips, news from chefs, cocktails, and shopping lists.
- Travel: Destinations, trip ideas, hotel search, flight search, flight status, and arrivals and departures.
- Autos: Research and buying advice, auto-related news, information for enthusiasts, and coverage of auto shows worldwide.
- Video: Trending and viral videos, comedy and pop culture, and videos from other MSN categories. Integrates with video search from Bing Videos.
The top of the home page provides access to Microsoft services Bing, Outlook.com, Skype, Office Online, OneNote, OneDrive, Bing Maps, and Groove Music, as well as popular social media services Facebook and Twitter. Signing into MSN with a Microsoft account allows for personalized content to appear and to be synchronized across devices on the website and in the corresponding apps. The redesign of the website led to the closure of MSN’s longtime personalized home page service ‘My MSN’, which was made up of customized RSS feeds, as the new website no longer supports user-specified RSS content. However, it added some customizability, allowing each category on the home page to be reordered or hidden.
With the 2014 relaunch, MSN now supports responsive design and eliminates the need for a separate mobile website. The redesign of MSN proved positive and helped increase traffic with an additional 10 million daily visitors after two months