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New MSN.com

So, overnight MSN seems to have updated their layout. It’s a little blockier, but it loads faster, and it’s just as easy to find things, so that’s cool.

A little pop-up window asked me if I wanted to take a survey, so I did. One of the questions cracked me up:

8. Please select the option below that most closely matches your opinion of the MSN.com homepage.

  • Too conservative
  • Too liberal
  • About right for me
  • No opinion

It’ll be interesting to see what people answered, assuming MSN makes the survey results public.

I’m not really sure how to answer it, myself. MSN/MSNBC seems to be incorporating news stories from the Washington Post, which I would describe as having something of a liberal bias, but I can’t say that about all of MSN’s stories. While the majority of them are cautious about saying anything nice about the president, I’ve grown to expect that from everyone. I’ll probably put “No opinion”…

There’s one nice thing about this page update. MSN’s old City Search was a useless piece of crap. It covered major cities only, so essentially it was irrelevant to a large portion of the population. (If I’m looking for a place to have dinner, I’m not going to drive two hours into Atlanta.) I remember sending MSN feedback about that a few months ago. Apparently others did too; now Citysearch is at least able to find restaurants in Augusta.

From the format of the data, I’d say they plucked it right out of the Yellow Pages. This is both interesting and annoying. Everyone seems to want to use Yellow Pages data rather than do their own legwork. It probably saves them money. But when you do that, what makes your service any better than just going to the Yellow Pages? (I was going to say that about the only reason I can think of to use someone else would be to avoid YP’s horrible popup and banner ads…but YP.com has been updated, and I don’t see those ads anymore.)

At any rate, Citysearch is still largely irrelevant, as its articles (Best Sushi, for example) again relate only to large cities. But it’s a start.

Going through the rest of the survey, I’ve come across a question that asks me whether or not I would recommend MSN to others based on

Unique content and information that you can’t get anywhere else

You know, I don’t think I would recommend any web portal at this point. They are all (essentially) the same. My coworker uses Comcast’s. I use MSN because it was set as the default homepage when I installed my browser. I’ve always kind of liked how it was set up. I don’t use it for news. Usually I read it when I’m bored; it has some interesting articles. Typically the news on MSN.com is dated. I’ve usually heard about something via my RSS feeds long before it shows up on MSN.

Speaking of RSS, why doesn’t MSN use it?

Wait a second…they do! But not the way I want. What they’ve done is added a tool to display RSS feeds on MyMSN. That is clever! It means people can route the news they want to one place, and it’ll appear next to news MSN wants them to see. I don’t think it will draw me away from Bloglines, but it’s an intriguing move for MSN.

In the comments/suggestions box, I put the following:

I would like RSS feeds for all information on the page. Just do snippets if you’re afraid of losing banner impressions. If the stories are good enough, people will follow the links and read them, and they will then see your ads.

Speaking of which…I got to answer questions about the ads.

12. How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the following aspects of the MSN.com homepage?

I had to choose from “Very Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, Neutral, Satisfied, Very Satisfied, Don’t Know”. Here are the actual items, and my responses:

  • Amount of space for ads versus other information: Very Dissatisfied
  • Can tell the ads apart from other information: Satisfied
  • The relevancy of the ads to you: Dissatisfied
  • The quality of the ads: Dissatisfied
  • Ads that cover the page, then disappear: Very Dissatisfied
  • Large, animating, graphical ad near the top: Very Dissatisfied

I hate animated ads, and I hate ads that cover the content I’m trying to read. Hate hate hate!

In all, I guess the updates make MSN a little better, but it’s nothing to get excited about. I was just happy for a chance to give them my feedback, especially concerning RSS and ads.