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MSN adds new feature to take Internet's pulse - targets young users

MSN_screen.jpg
A screen grab from the new MSN service that creates 'news snacking' primarily for young people used to getting information through their mobile devices.

SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft is hooking up MSN.com with a hipper sidekick to broaden its appeal and stay on top of the Internet's hottest topics.

The trend-tracking service, called "msnNOW," tunes into the buzz by sifting through millions of Internet searches and links circulating among the hordes on Facebook and Twitter. The chatter is then distilled into the equivalent of a digital water cooler — a place where people can go to keep in touch without taking up a lot of their time.

After months of development, the new feature debuts today.

The service is primarily aimed at college-age teenagers and young adults who are increasingly relying on smartphones and other mobile devices to remain plugged into what everyone is talking about from one hour to the next.

For young users

It's an "information-snacking" addiction that msnNOW is looking to feed with a smorgasbord of morsels served up a team of about 20 editors who will write 100-word summaries of the stories driving online conversations, said Bob Visse, MSN's general manager.

Although it's tailor made for people on the go, msnNOW isn't offering an app for smartphones or computer tablets. It can be reached on all mobile Web browsers. The service alsol includes tools to make it easy to share on Facebook, Twitter and email.

Taking the Internet's pulse isn't new. The main page on Yahoo Inc.'s website has highlighted the top trends for years and Internet search leader Google Inc. calls out the top queries each day. Twitter regularly updates its rankings of the most-tweeted topics.

But MSN believes its new service will prove to be even more effective because it is drawing upon Microsoft Corp.'s expertise in data management and relying on human editors to ensure the real-time site is more compelling than a list of words and links.

Using Facebook and Twitter

Facebook Inc. and Twitter also have negotiated deals that make more of their data available to Microsoft's Bing search engine than to Google, but msnNOW isn't relying on that privileged access, Visse said. Instead, msnNOW is conducting its analysis through the public entryways that Facebook and Twitter offers to all websites. MsnNOW is also leaning on BreakingNews.com, a part of MSNBC that also pores through a variety of social media to find interesting stories as they unfold.

MsnNOW's reliance on Bing to monitor online search activity could be a drawback because it processes far fewer requests than Google. But Bing is picking up more cues now that it's powering Yahoo's search engine as part of a 10-year partnership. Combined, Bing and Yahoo have a roughly 30 percent share of U.S. search volume compared to 66 percent at Google.

Bing's second-banana status in search is a big reason why Microsoft's online division has been a financial albatross. The software maker's online operations have lost about $8 billion since June 2008.

MSN.com remains one of the Internet's top destinations with about 520 million users. In comparison Facebook boasts 845 million users, Yahoo has about 700 million and Twitter has more than 100 million.

The Associated Press (“AP”) is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees news from the AP. Founded in 1846, the AP today is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. The AP considers itself to be the backbone of the world’s information system, serving thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television, and online customers with coverage in text, photos, graphics, audio and video.