MSN Bets on Laziness

At the Consumer Technology Innovations conference in San Francisco yesterday, Joanne Bradford, Corporate Vice President & Chief Media Officer of Microsoft’s MSN, said the popularity of Facebook, MySpace and YouTube proves that web portals continue to be viable, despite the trend toward extreme individualism encapsulated in the expression “long tail.”

From CNET’s post about the conference:

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 from internetnews.com:

Asked if portals were “dying a slow death,” Bradford said quite the opposite. “Everything is looking more like a portal these days if you look at Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. I think there’s a reverse portal phenomenon going on where you stuff the tail back in the head and make it mean something.”

In other words, while a lot of social networking sites carry more personalized, user-generated and long tail content (referring to the theory of niche sites creating their own markets), they’re all trying to organize content like a portal does.

“People want things filtered for them and put together in a way that’s meaningful to their life, whether that’s around friends or items you want to buy,” said Bradford. “We really think people want you to do it [organize content] for them.” Bradford further claimed that most consumers don’t want to set up home pages, such as iGoogle, myYahoo or even feeds on Facebook. “There’s a great unanswered consumer need there,” she said, to automate the process of giving users the content they’re looking for.

To which I observe: Boy, that Microsoft culture sticks to its people like lint! Bradford’s head shot makes her look young and perky, but she already talks like an old-timer.

People are lazy?

People want things filtered for them?

MSN knows what’s “meaningful to (my) life?”

Really?

Here’s my hypothesis on what Bradford might be picking up. When RSS syndication first appeared, some people immediately got it–and some didn’t. The ones who didn’t get it just walked away from it.

It’s not that syndication is so hard to use, but the myriad feed readers make people feel a lack of confidence. What if I choose the wrong one? I’ve set up feeds on probably five different readers and I could easily do this on 25 more. It wasn’t obvious which one met my needs the most. There was a lot of trial and error. I’m still not sure I am using the right one, or in the right way.

Further, the nomenclature is all off. “Syndication” is not descriptive of what RSS feeds do for you. When I try to explain it to my wife and son, I get tongue-tied. What RSS feeds allow you to do is to organize the vastness of the web by categories that are meaningful to you, to pull into these categories individual sites that serve your needs and wants, and then to be able to check on whether they’ve been updated, and with what, more efficiently.

If MSN thinks it can develop a better widget to help more people create better feeds, then that would be a contribution to the usability of the Web.

But that’s not what Bradford seems to be saying. She seems to think most readers want someone else to aggregate content for them — to make choices for them.

I have to assume the current look of the MSN home page represents what Bradford thinks is meaningful to me, you and everyone else. Take a look. Is she right?

Yes, if you’re interested in:

  • 7 Tips for a Job Interview
  • Coverage of the murder of the Washington Redskins’ player
  • Buying Xbox 360 games or booking travel on Expedia. (Xbox is a Microsoft product, and Expedia was founded by Microsoft.)
  • A story about a “raging” debate: Which is more “green,” fake or real Christmas trees?
  • Assorted national news, sports and “money” headlines.
  • Gossip about Britney, Christina, Avril, and Dancing With the Stars.

Apparently, what we all want is USA Today, except dumbed down.

Oh, and here’s what MSN tells us are the hottest “searches” right now:

msn-home-page-nov-28-2007-copy.jpg

Note also the great options they give you to customize the page to meet your needs. All six of them, including your horoscope.

Note also: MSN’s home page doesn’t resemble MySpace or Facebook in the slightest. The only way I know this page is mine is the weather box. In the social networking sites, it’s all about me, which is how the advertisers like it.

Building on platforms like Facebook with widgets that allow you to feed particular news and entertainment interests onto your world of me — that seems like the obvious direction where the Web is going. Oh, I could be wrong, but I know for sure we’re not going back to 1999.

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