As we delve into the depths of internet history — okay, maybe it’s not all that deep — it becomes clear exactly how much has changed in such a relatively short time. It’s more than I expected, probably because the changes have been so gradual. My husband has set his homepage to MSN for as long as I can remember, so every time we log onto his computer we get a little bit of everything MSN has to offer. I remember all of the looks below.
In 1999, the narrow MSN homepage was dominated by underlined links and boxes for everything. At the top of the page, the underlined links were in black as opposed to the customary blue. There was a b&w menu bar across the top above one small ad and below a search box, a categorized links list on the left, and a message center on the right. Overall, it’s useful, but awkward by today’s standards. (On a side note, I particularly love the post titled “Y2K is Coming: Enter to win a cool survival kit”.)
Obviously the marketplace has grown by 2004 as ad space is larger and more prominent at the top left. The entire page is wider, too. The boxes have softened and color plays a bigger role in delineating sections like News, Entertainment, Sports, etc. Links are no longer underlined, but are previewed by headlines. The menu of links on the left is categorized and grouped, and there are colorful buttons to link to mail and messaging at the top. Basic layout conventions have emerged and more attention is being paid to readability, usability, and appearance. I believe users also had the ability to sign in and customize a few components on the homepage. Limited photos, and those are small.
There were a number of big changes as the page evolved from 2004 to 2007. Bars of color are gone and replaced with more color photos, one large and several thumbnails. The large photo can be changed by clicking an arrow forward or back. The menu anchoring the left has moved to the top and the cute buttons have been merged into it. The search remains at the very top with expanded search options. For unity, boxes have returned, though they are headed consistently with a washed out color, have the ability to expand for more stories, and are accompanied by a thumbnail. The page looks cleaner, more approachable, and is now two well-organized columns instead of three competing ones. For advertisers, large space has been allotted in the middle of the first column with a small teaser ad banner at the top of the second.
Here’s where MSN is today, very much in the same place as other media outlets. The page is whiter, cleaner, and more approachable. Search options remain at the top, followed by a simple blue menu bar with slider options for each category. Customizable elements include a brief weather summary at the top and links to personal social media. There is a dominant headline and large photo(s) that is generally part of a slideshow of headlines and photos. Recent news links follow, with indicators of whether it is print or video content. Other sections are separated by thin blue bars. It is interesting to note that the layout is back to three columns that are divided 2-to-1 for the main sections. The smaller far right column is dedicated to more links by interest. Ad space is one large square to the top right of the page.
While this has been a natural evolution shared with most news-related pages with such a long web presence, it has been a necessary one. While maintaining reliability for its loyal users, especially those who have made it their homepages, MSN’s design has increased in strength for all the reasons listed above. It is not overwhelming or intimidating, information is easy to find, and there is a comfortable compromise between volume of information offered and appearance.
*For more comparisons of web sites throughout the years, visit WaybackMachine.org, the source for all images posted here.