MSN Enters Blogging Fray with “Spaces”

Microsoft’s MSN has introduced a beta version of its new blogging tool, MSN Spaces, which it expects will eventually be supported by advertising. It’s available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide.

The tool competes directly with Google’s Blogger and AOL’s Journals, and less closely with Yahoo’s GeoCities and Yahoo Photos offerings. The Redmond software giant also declared its intentions to compete with Yahoo in the RSS aggregation space, saying MSN’s feed aggregator was coming soon. Yahoo’s RSS aggregator launched in September.

MSN’s new blogging platform is integrated with the portal’s Messenger and Hotmail offerings — which have been upgraded as part of the launch — as well as with its newly-launched MSN Music store. Spaces is also intended to increase user loyalty to the MSN portal as a whole, and therefore drive the delivery of ad impressions and e-commerce transactions.

“A lot of this is about engagement,” said Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN Communications Services. “The more services they tend to use, and the more engaged they are with the overall network, the more valuable they tend to be to our network.”

The Spaces tool includes typical blogging features such as text entry. It also lets users share photos, lists of favorite songs, and the like. (The song lists link to MSN Music.) Users can customize their blog’s layout and its background. They can update their sites via the Web, through email, or with a mobile phone. If they choose, they can publish a feed in the RSS 2.0 format, which will allow readers to view the content in an RSS aggregator.

The company has placed a high priority on integrating Spaces with the rest of its communications tools. Spaces users can create a “Contact Card,” which displays information from their site to friends on their Messenger list or in their Hotmail address book. When Spaces users update their sites, their Messenger icon changes, alerting contacts of the new content. The company is working to bring together its Hotmail and Messenger user databases, to better integrate the services.

The integration of address books and buddy lists is evident in the Spaces privacy settings, as well. Users can make their sites available to everyone, only to people on their Messenger contact lists, or they can select permitted visitors from their Hotmail address books.

Though the design of each Spaces page leaves room for four text ads, MSN will initially display house ads before beginning to sell the space to advertisers.

“We definitely see this as the space where we would potentially have advertising in the future. We’re not selling ads at this point, but this is definitely something we’re looking at as part of the beta,” said Richardson. “We’re trying to think about advertising from the beginning of the development process instead of as an afterthought.”

The Messenger 7.0 upgrade also incorporates a test of potential advertising space in the IM environment. The company has created a theme “pack,” similar to AOL’s Expressions or Yahoo’s IMvironments, which will allow users to customize their IM clients with advertiser-sponsored content. Currently, the only theme available is one for Microsoft’s own Halo 2 console game.

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