August 3, 2005
@ 02:13 AM

I recently stumbled upon a blog post entitled Why MSN is lost again... from Guillaume Belfiore which claimed that MSN is lost because we copy features from competitors without having a roadmap for where we want to go. He uses a specific example of the recent announcement that MSN Spaces will have a social networking feature as proof and claims that we are simply copying Yahoo! 360.

I was going to write a response but then realized that Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! had written a post about this topic which is a generic answer to posts like Guillaume's. In his post Secrets of Product Development and What Journalists Write Jeremy wrote

Before I came out to California to work at Yahoo, I watched the business and culture of Silicon Valley from a distance. I read lots of the trade rags, tech web sites, and books about early Internet companies (the Netscape era).

One of the things that amazed me about Internet companies (usually the portals) was how quickly they built things and were able to react to each others moves with frightening speed. Company X would do something amazing and new only to be leapfrogged by Company Y just a few weeks later.

They were putting on one hell of a show and it was all amplified by the crazy bubble of the late 90s. I loved it.

The tech and business press would say things like "in response to Company X, Company Y has just..." or "in an effort to defend their business from Company Y, Company X today launched a new..."

I saw headlines like that all the time and still see them today.

Today there's one important difference: I'm on the inside now. For the last five and a half years, I have had a front row seat to the inner workings of what I used to imagine (with the help of a small army of journalists and reports).

Now I see it first hand and hear about it from coworkers and friends at other companies. And you know what? It's even more insane than it looked from the outside.

So I'm going to let you in on a little secret about how products are developed at large companies--even large Internet companies that some people think are fast on their feet.

Larger companies rarely can respond that quickly to each other. It almost never happens. Sure, they may talk a good game, but it's just talk. Building things on the scale that Microsoft, Google, AOL, or Yahoo do is a complex process. It takes time.

Journalists like to paint this as a rapidly moving chess game in which we're all waiting for the next move so that we can quickly respond. But the truth is that most product development goes on in parallel. Usually there are people at several companies who all have the same idea, or at least very similar ones. The real race is to see who can build it faster and better than the others.

Think about this the next time a news story makes it sound like Yahoo is trying to one-up Google. Or MSN is "responding" to last week's launch of a new AOL service.

It's easy to get caught up in the drama of it all. But reality is often quite different than what you read.

Just because the media likes to paint it as if web companies respond to each other's development efforts in the twinkling of an eye as part of an eternal game of one upmanship doesn't mean this is the case. Although folks like to paint Web development as simply tweaking HTML pages, as Jeremy points out it takes a lot longer than one would expect to build and deploy services that will be utilized by millions of people.

The social networking aspects of Spaces have always been part of the vision and in fact when I was hired at MSN my boss told me that I'd be working on three things; a blogging platform, a social networking platform and an RSS platform. At the time, it wasn't clear my team would own the RSS piece so my [future] boss was worried that I'd be upset if I started on the team and the RSS piece moved elsewhere. Of course, since I already work on RSS Bandit in my free time I didn't mind if I didn't get to work on RSS as part of my day job. It turned out he was right and the RSS pieces ended up being driven by the and folks.

Don't believe the hype.


Wednesday, August 3, 2005 2:55:59 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's funny how you guys don't clearly read my entries:

My point is that you "seem" to be lost and therefore you seem to follow others. By this I mean that this is the only way I can see it. And as Jeremy point out, I'm not alone:
1st post:
-"In fact it just seems like they are 'forced' to follow others."
This was my 'impression'
-Then I'm talking about the widget; I find it weird you guys announce it few days after Yahoo revealed the Konfabulator acquisition. Admit it, what do you want the basic internet surfer to be thinking?

2nd post
I have been enlightened by Torres on the MSN Messenger features that , according to him, come from threedegrees and not Yahoo Messenger.

Now here is my point: MSN more than once, seems to make mistakes in their actions. I could be wrong, but few things really look weird. I will reiterate here the examples given and maybe you can help me understand:
- The Hotmail calendar was taken away from basic accounts to be given to MSN Premium subscribers only. Few months later, the Hotmail calendar was reintegrated to basic accounts...Does that seem to be well undertaken?
-The MSN photo site was available to all accounts. Probly because MSN needed another feature for their Premium subscribers, the Photo site was taken away from the basic accounts to subscribers only. Few month later even MSN Premium subscribers lost their MSN Photosite.Does that seem to be well undertaken?
-Microsoft launch Threedegrees. Threedegrees closes and links to MSN Messenger. What that really supposed to be Threedegrees' future?
-Microsoft developped MyWallop, a pionner in the social network. MSN launch MSN Spaces. MyWallop still is undertesting test apparently, but MSN announced their social network. Also we have The Spoke as another Microsoft blogging tool. So don't I have the right to be lost here and wonder about the real plans ahead?
- The current Microsoft Hotmail perfectly fit the Office 2003 suite. The current beta version is great and will surely be morepowerful but it does not fit Microsoft in anyway. is MSN still the Microsoft Network?
- What is It looks awesome, it's really great. So does it mean (the Homepage of the Microsoft web extension) will have an 'internal competitor"?
- MSN Premium has not been updated since last year. Was that a failure?
I could go on and on with other examples.

As I said it's not so much the who copies who that I want to point out (I may not have expressed myself really well though). I guess I was trying to understand making hypotheses. I perfectly imagine that MSN was working on Virtual Earth when Google was launching their tool. They would not have come up with sucha website in few weeks! Same thing for the desktop search plateforms, and well, web search services themselves.
Now yeh I don't know the roadmaps but admit that an external observation can bring up some questions, no?

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 3:24:54 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'll try and answer some of your questions from my perspective.

1.) MSN Premium - The balance between what should be a free advertising supported service and what should be a paid feature is a fine line that our business folks keep trying to figure out. Sometimes the response for customers indicate that we've made a mistake and sometimes we focus our efforts elsewhere.

As for what's next for MSN Premium, I don't work closely with the folks responsible for it so I can't answer that.

2.) MSN Photos - The closing of this happened before my time but it seems this was for business reasons. Our photo sharing story is now that folks should share photos on their space. Of course, this doesn't give you the ability to order prints online like traditional photo sites which is something that I'd love to see in a future version of Spaces.

3.) ThreeDegrees - The lessons from this project are being incorporated into MSN Messenger.

4.) MyWallop is a research project from Microsoft Research, it isn't a consumer product. TheSpoke is a community website like many others such as or, it isn't a consumer product. MSN Spaces is a consumer product.

5.) I don't know enough about Hotmail or to answer questions about them.
Wednesday, August 3, 2005 12:23:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
From my own point of view, the development side of MSN seems focused with clear roadmaps and product ideas. Obviously I'm not an employee so this is only my opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, the business (marketing, sales, advertising etc) side seems less clear.

Although good work is being done with AdCentre, other areas do need work. The top banner ad was recently removed from which is a start, but as Guillaume has pointed out, MSN Premium seems to be having major problems. Sure they are experimenting with extra features, but why not just start with basic ideas. $30 a year for Hotmail Plus and Adless Messenger for example. Its not as if patches don't already exist to remove the ads.

Its great to see some MSN Bloggers actually taking the time to read and comment on these kind of posts, I just hope the feedback gets passed on to the Business teams. Incidentally, where are their blogs?
Wednesday, August 3, 2005 5:53:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Can you please select a different default template or make it so that your server doesn't error when I try to select a different template?
Wednesday, August 3, 2005 6:43:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Selecting a default template works for me. Since I'm not running Safari I can't debug your problems. Perhaps you should try Firefox.
Thursday, August 4, 2005 7:00:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I get the same error on WinIE, FireFox and Safari. Can you see my errors in your logs?
Monday, August 8, 2005 8:04:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This is going to sound nuts, but clicking the 'Movable Radio Heat' link crashed RSS Bandit!

Details from log (computer and user name removed):

General Information

RSS Bandit
OS Version: Microsoft Windows NT 5.1.2600.0
Framework Version: .NET CLR v1.1.4322
Additonal Info:
ExceptionManager.MachineName: -----
ExceptionManager.TimeStamp: 08/08/2005 19:57:01
ExceptionManager.FullName: Microsoft.ApplicationBlocks.ExceptionManagement, Version=1.0.1521.25102, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null
ExceptionManager.AppDomainName: RSSBandit.exe
ExceptionManager.WindowsIdentity: -----

Exception Information
RssBandit.BanditApplicationException: StartMainGui() exiting main event loop on exception. ---> System.NullReferenceException: Object reference not set to an instance of an object.
at System.Windows.Forms.UnsafeNativeMethods.DispatchMessageA(MSG& msg)
at System.Windows.Forms.ComponentManager.System.Windows.Forms.UnsafeNativeMethods+IMsoComponentManager.FPushMessageLoop(Int32 dwComponentID, Int32 reason, Int32 pvLoopData)
at System.Windows.Forms.ThreadContext.RunMessageLoopInner(Int32 reason, ApplicationContext context)
at System.Windows.Forms.ThreadContext.RunMessageLoop(Int32 reason, ApplicationContext context)
at System.Windows.Forms.Application.Run(ApplicationContext context)
at RssBandit.RssBanditApplication.StartMainGui(FormWindowState initialStartupState)
--- End of inner exception stack trace ---
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