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Microsoft’s MSN portal has always been a solid effort; the reporting, the stories and the fun videos and gossip have always been dependably present, as an entertainment backup, if not the main act itself, for millions (for about one hundred million users though, MSN’s services are their main Internet destination). Where TMZ succeeded in up-to-the-minute gossip, MSN’S Wonderwall provided pretty good visuals and high-voltage fun. Where Salon.com had a lock on liberal news and opinion, MSN had the superbly written MSN Lifestyle, MSN Money, MSN Health, a website for every interest group on earth. But Microsoft has other purposes on its mind than merely providing a wholesome all-round visitor experience: it needs to have MSN funnel users to its Bing search service.

With that in mind, MSN has a brand-new makeover this week, having retained the same look since 2004. The new MSN is pleasingly streamlined, fashionably minimalist and glossy in the way Windows 7 and Bing are. Even MSN’s stylized butterfly is drawn edge-on to look closer to the Bing logo. Bing is integrated quite deeply into the MSN experience now. MSN Local Edition, the popular service that serves up a community news catalog by ZIP code has Bing-searchable indexes now for example. Local weather reports are no longer just cursory; they give you additional information for everything you might want to do in good weather: they give you concert news, restaurant opinions, traffic information and so on.

Integration with Twitter and Facebook exists now too, in a nod to that side of the market. You can keep up with all the Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live updates coming to you right on the MSN home page. That must make sense, seeing how it is reported that half of all MSN regulars are Facebook fans too. But the integration could have been better; clicking on the Facebook widget only takes you to the Facebook site. There is nothing right on the MSN site that can help you keep in touch with Facebook.

MSN’s ambition is to be a one-stop website for every need, perhaps in a way similar to what Yahoo attempted a while ago. But Yahoo has seen considerable success with its remodeling. Will MSN find the magic balance too?