100 Words or Less: Microsoft Launches msnNOW Social News Portal for Info Snackers


When was the last time you used an old-school Internet portal like Yahoo's homepage or MSN? Chances are, it's been a while. Now that more and more of us are getting our news from a wide variety of sources, the Internet portals that were once important in the 90s have made way for Flipboard, Zite, Twitter and Facebook. Microsoft is obviously quite aware of this trend and now tries to combat it with the launched of a new corner of its MSN portal called nowMSN. In Microsoft's words, "msnNOW tabs social media to find and explore the web's hottest trends in real-time."

The site is run by an editorial team that uses an in-house tool called the "Demand Dashboard" to find the hottest trending topics on the net and then curates them on the nowMSN homepage. Facebook, Twitter, Bing, and are among the service Microsoft is scanning for news to add to nowMSN. Every story on the site then also features the icons of the services where it was trending.

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A Site for Info Snackers

Microsoft wants this to become a go-to page for "info snackers" and stories will have one hundred words or less. The reason for this, says Microsoft's Bob Visee, the general manager for MSN, is that "the demographic interested in these trends is very accustomed to ‘info snacking’ throughout the day. They’re used to this shortened language."

In some ways, the site feels a bit like BuzzFeed, but without the ambition to be more than just an aggregator of funny pictures and celebrity news.

Those of us who prefer long, thought-out stories like to bemoan this trend, but in terms of generating traffic for its portal, Microsoft is probably looking in the direction. I can't help but wonder whether completely breaking with the MSN name wouldn't have been a better idea, though, given that most Internet users probably associate MSN with a very different era of the web.

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/, an iPad-only news aggregator that was developed by developers Betaworks (in collaboration with the New York Times) made its debut in Apple’s app store today (iTunes link). The app presents you with a list of stories your friends on Twitter and select influencers chosen by the editorial staff are reading. With the help of the data collected by, the feed is filtered according to how many times an article has been shared and clicked on. To use the app beyond the one-week trial period, users will have to pay $0.99 per week or $34.99 for a one-year subscription.

Among media pundits,’s business model of redistributing the money it makes from subscriptions to the news outlets it has partnered with has been the main focus of attention. The majority of users couldn’t care less about this, though, and the app will have to justify its existence by offering an experience that users will actually want to pay for. As it stands right now, I don’t think I’ll pay for the service – especially given that Zite and Flipboard currently offer a superior experience for free.


Less About – More About News.what-others-are-reading

In theory, the idea behind is quite interesting. It allows you to see what others on Twitter are reading and highlights the best of these stories by using a PageRank-like algorithm based on’s massive trove of data. Because of this, though, feels like it’s less about giving you a great personalized reading experience as it is about giving you a semi-voyeuristic view into the stories that stream through other users’ Twitter streams.

Sadly, you can only follow those Twitter users who are also subscribed to the service – making it substantially less useful than an app like Zite and Flipboard where no such restrictions exist. You also can’t vote content up or down – meaning that the personalization doesn’t extent much beyond looking at the “best” stuff that’s streaming through a given users’ Twitter channels. While apps like Zite or the Google Reader-based My6Sense iPhone app, doesn’t learn anything from my reading behavior.

The reason just isn’t that useful to me, even though the design is nice and I like the business model, is that when I’m browsing news, I want to browse by categories and topics. I don’t want to have to wade through a semi-random list of stories – many of which show up in multiple streams and hence make this service even less interesting.


As it stands now, I don’t see a good reason for paying for The experience isn’t up to par with what other services offer for free and I’m not sold on the concept behind it. Want a personalized news experience on the iPad? Download Zite and Flipboard instead. Or, on the web, try Trove, which looks at stories shared by your Facebook friends.

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