SEATTLE, September 23, 1999 — Microsoft today announced it is delivering the first step toward its vision of the
in which the Internet will become a critical part of people’s everyday routines. The company, which outlined its strategy at an MSN Day press briefing in downtown Seattle, plans to make MSN.com the focal point for this vision by establishing it as the central gateway for consumer and business activity on the Web and by making MSN.com services available anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
In a roundtable discussion with PressPass, Microsoft executives Richard Belluzzo, Brad Chase and Jon DeVaan discussed Microsoft’s direction for MSN.com and how it fits into the company’s vision for the next generation Web. The three executives form the core leadership team of Microsoft’s Consumer and Commerce Group.
PressPass: Let’s begin by talking about the way the Web is changing, or more specifically, about how the way people use the Web is changing.
Rick Belluzzo: We believe that the Web needs to evolve from something that most people use relatively infrequently into a medium that they will use all the time. We like to think of it as the
Today the average user comes to the Web maybe once every two weeks, and they might spend an hour. What’s going to happen is that a lot of the activities people do today by mail or in the car–like shopping, or paying bills, or running errands–are going to be much easier to do over the Web. Suddenly, it’s going to become very commonplace for people to do these tasks online.
Our vision for MSN.com is to help bring about this
to make the Web indispensable to every person and every business every day.
Brad Chase: There’s a second part to this, too. Today’s Web is pretty much a read-only medium, where you jump along from Web site to Web site and you just read pages. There’s not a lot of opportunity for the average user to create personal information or to interact with people they know. We think the
will be a center for building community and sharing ideas. Whether you are managing a girls’ soccer team or running a civic group, the Web is about to become the tool that will make it really easy to share information. Using the Web to let everyone know where the soccer team is going for pizza after the game will be as simple as creating a document in Microsoft Word.
PressPass: How will Microsoft deliver this
Jon DeVaan: Through MSN.com, Microsoft is going to provide a unique set of technologies and features in four specific areas. First, we’ve got a rich set of software and services that will make it easy for people to use the Web on a daily basis. Then we’re going to extend that ease of use from the products we develop to the Web as a whole by offering something we call megaservices. The third thing we’re going to do is create marketplace partnerships with leading companies. And finally, we’re going to deliver these services to Web users anywhere, anytime, and on any device
PressPass: Can you give me some examples?
DeVaan : Sure. Hotmail is a really good example of the kind of thing we’re talking about when we say that we’re going to offer the richest set of software and services. Everyone is offering free Internet-based email. Of course the advantage is that you can access your e-mail from any computer, anywhere in the world. What we’re going to do is provide software that runs on top of Hotmail so that you get the benefits of the Internet and the benefits of software. That will mean richer editing, the ability to work offline, better contact management, and more. That’s just one of the things we’re going to do make the Web easier to use.
Chase: Megaservices is another. These are a set of services that both people and businesses will use to make the Web simpler. One important piece of this is Microsoft Passport. If you talk to people who use the Web regularly today, they have three to five user names and user IDs. Compare that to the physical world. When you go shopping at Nordstrom, you don’t have to register to buy shoes on one floor and then go up a floor and register again to buy a sweater. Microsoft Passport is a way to provide a user with a single personal identity, and it gives them both the privacy and the security they need to shop online with confidence.
PressPass: You mentioned partnerships with leading companies. Is the partnership with Ford an example of that?
Belluzzo: Absolutely. In partnering with Ford on CarPoint, our goal is to put the power in the hands of the consumer, so that people can not only find the best price on a specific car, but they can actually sit at home and custom-build that car from their Web browser. They can say,
“here’s the car I’m interested in, here are the features I want, this is the color,”
and they can use CarPoint to have Ford build that car and deliver it to them.
PressPass: What about this notion of making the Web available to users anytime, anywhere, on any device?
DeVaan: Right now, you can sit in front of your computer and access the Web. But as soon as you get up to walk into another room, it’s gone. We’re going to make it so that the Web is with you any time you want it, so that it’s easy to get your personal information, access your email, or purchase products no matter where you are. We’re already leading the way with WebTV and MSN Mobile 1.0. But that’s just the beginning. In the near future, there is going to be a whole range of devices.
Belluzzo: Your cell phone is a good example, because it can get data and it can also go out and browse the Web. CE devices and Palm Pilots all offer the option to access the Web and retrieve information. Now if you’re a company that can provide that information in a very personalized, secure format, you can deliver real value to people no matter where they are or what device they are using.
PressPass: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about how this new vision of MSN.com is different from the MSN of the past.
Chase: MSN has gone through a long evolution. We started out trying to build an online proprietary service. That was a decent effort, and we learned a lot from that.
DeVaan: Frankly, we learned that the Web is a service business that is very different from what we had done previously with packaged software.
Chase: We also learned that people don’t want to be in a controlled environment. What they want is to be able to pick the set of services they use to access the full power of the Web.
That’s what we learned in 1995. Two years later we tried to become a broad-based entertainment network, a kind of World’s Fair for the Web. So we created a lot of entertainment content and creative content. What we learned was that content is important, but it’s important in the context of trying to get certain things done. Content for content’s sake was not what users were looking for. And it certainly wasn’t one of our core strengths. Our strength is in the area of personal productivity.
Belluzzo: That history puts us in a great position today. Microsoft has always excelled at providing software and services that help users get things done more easily and more quickly. And that is exactly where the Web is headed today. It is becoming a critical tool to help people accomplish many day-to-day tasks.
PressPass: How will businesses be able to benefit from the new MSN.com?
DeVaan: One of the new services we are launching is bCentral, our small business portal. bCentral is designed to help small businesses move forward into the digital age. For example, if you own a bike shop and you aren’t on the Web yet, you can go to bCentral, and for a fixed monthly fee we will do the whole thing for you. We’ll get you a domain name, build you a Web site, and set you up with an ISP. Once your site is up, we can bring you traffic through ad swapping. As people come to your site, we’ll provide the tools you need to track leads and sell products.
Belluzzo: The vision for bCentral is to provide an end-to-end solution for anyone who wants to run their business on the Web. Without necessarily knowing a lot about technology or having to make any big investments, you can take a small, local business and give it many of the same strengths and advantages of a much larger enterprise.
PressPass: MSN.com is unveiling a new search engine. How does it differ from the search engines that are already out there?
Chase: Today, search is done in one of two ways. You might have a directory that someone put together where they said, for example,
“for bears, let’s see, the categories are ‘teddy bears,’ ‘grizzly bears,’ and ‘the Chicago Bears.'”
The other approach is to do a text match, so you get something like
“let’s bring back all the possible sites that have the letters b-e-a-r-s.”
What we’ve done is combine the best of those two scenarios and then taken it a huge leap forward by adding smarts to the query so that we can rank and prioritize the most interesting returns for a search based on what other people are looking for at the time. For example, if people are looking for
in the month of September, it tends to be more for the Chicago Bears because it’s football season. In December, when people are shopping for presents, it may be teddy bears. So the results that we’ll provide back from a Web search will be much more relevant to what you are looking for.
DeVaan: We’ve done a lot of analysis and a lot of behind the scenes work to provide a high degree of likelihood that our search will return the results you are looking for. Going forward, the vision is to make the search even better. Today, if you want to buy a TV and you do a search on the Web, what you get on almost any search engine is a long list of sites that sell TVs. Then you have to link off to each of those sites and search for the TV you want. What people really want is to be able to run a search that includes the brand, the size, the price and have the search engine come back with TVs that meet those requirements, regardless of who’s selling them. Then they want those TVs to be a single click away. That’s exactly what our search will do–provide the ability to peer into a huge number of sites and return exactly the information the user wants in a simple, easy-to-use manner.
PressPass: When can the average user expect to see the every day Web become a reality?
Belluzzo: It’s already started. Many of the features and services we’ve been talking about are already available. The new MSN search and bCentral are being released today. The tools to use the Web to collaborate and share ideas and edit information are available now, and in the next three months we’ll release a much richer version that will allow people to do these things in a remarkably seamless way. So you’ll see more and more pieces of it coming out during the next few months. And you’ll see it really start to reach it’s true potential over the next 18 months.