Commentary

With MSN Redesign, The Torch Passes Officially To Social Nets

First, let me apologize. I said last week that this week I was going to write about ways people are finding to cut through the social media clutter, and surface quality from all the quantity; wouldn't you know that real life -- the one without keyboards -- intervened.

In the real world, as it is in social networking these days, quantity won. First, there was Halloween. Then the lice infestation (the less said about that, the better), and finally there was the matter of the (hopefully not devastating) roof collapse at one of my children's schools over the weekend -- which left precious little time to solicit ideas about the quality vs. quantity debate. Please email me your ideas and I'll get to that next week.

And you'd better do it fast, because the ways to access social content just increased by a factor of one -- a big one, with Microsoft's MSN.com announcing that it, too, will allow users to access their social nets from the MSN home page. While the news has certainly gotten the headlines that a portal with monthly traffic of 100 million warrants, in fact, MSN is the last of what used to be the portal world's Big Three to do so. In case you haven't noticed (ha! as if that were possible), Yahoo has transformed its home page into being all about Y!ou! AOL, meanwhile, has offered these features for a while.

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But with the jumping of MSN on the social media bandwagon, the passing of the torch is complete. The portals had to concede to social networks --  just as, back in the day, the original, proprietary online services had to concede to the Web, and allow their subscribers to access it. (Yes, kiddies, there was a time when AOL and the Internet were two separate things that didn't connect at all.)

But this is different than what happened back then. While that was about letting people access more content, this is about evening out the score among different types of content. As is so often the case, it also involves things like social nets that weren't even imaginable in the mid-1990s. The moves by AOL, MSN and Yahoo put all content, social or otherwise, on a level playing field on a customized, personalized basis to a broader audience than had access before. If you value the comments from your friends about the World Series as much as you do a news feed from ESPN, these new, socialized portals have your number. Not to quote from the overblown Yahoo campaign, but it's a home page that only makes sense to you.

This is good, and not just for the portals. As I was writing this column, and, therefore, finally setting up my Facebook and Twitter accounts on all of these portals just to see how each went about it, two things occurred to me: one, that I never go to portals anymore, and two, that my two home pages have become, over time, my Gmail account and Tweetdeck. That's great, but perhaps a bit too customized. A merger between professional content and the not-so-professional (and inherently more random) is better.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is how this affects traffic going forward; sometimes it feels like more and more Web content of all stripes is being collapsed into a few central places from which it can all be accessed; we choose the entry point and take it from there. That's an overstatement to an extent, but there you have it.

For the portals, this is a defensive play; it's basically too late for them to invent their own social nets, so they have to team up with the leaders in the field to protect their metrics. However, for the main social networks, it's another driver for their membership ranks and their engagement. It's the ultimate expression of the fact that, on the Web, if it's not partly social, it's not worth squat.

1 comment about "With MSN Redesign, The Torch Passes Officially To Social Nets ".
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  1. Elizabeth Cottrell from Riverwood Technologies, November 4, 2009 at 9:21 p.m.

    How well I remember the days of head lice and school issues (but thankful your children weren't hurt in the roof collapse!)...I love that you shared them.

    Thanks for the insight on power plays among the big online companies, and I'm looking forward to anything you can do to help tame the social media information overload.

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