MS reluctant to set out MSN NZ time frame

More local content will be gradually added to the Microsoft Network (MSN) New Zealand portal site, but it's still unclear how long it will be before it features entirely New Zealand content.

Portals are sites that act as gateways to other information and services on the Web, and which provide services like e-mail and electronic commerce.

The Microsoft-Packer joint venture company NineMSN, which is managing the MSN portal in New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea, launched a preview of the MSN New Zealand site last year.

It was started as part of the MSN globalisation campaign in more than 25 countries. The site faced several delays in New Zealand before eventually launching as a preview site just before Christmas. It was originally expected to launch in late November.

Microsoft New Zealand referred Computerworld to Sydney-based NineMSN business development manager Aaron Pedersen to discuss development in New Zealand.

He was unaware of the delays in New Zealand and was reluctant to set out a future time frame without having spoken to officials in the US.

However, he did say the MSN portal in New Zealand is likely to stay in its current form for the next month or so, with more and more New Zealand content being added. People using Hotmail and Internet Explorer will eventually be directed to it, he said.

The preview site includes content from partners such as the NBR, TV One, Jasons Travel, NZ City and TAB Sports. Other links are also featured but not all have been localised yet.

Pedersen says NineMSN is still selecting appropriate partners in New Zealand and there's still the question of whether MSN will bring a version of its Expedia (consumer travel) service to New Zealand.

"We're in the process of evaluating partners within New Zealand and who we need to work with there to provide a good home page experience," he said.

Pedersen added that potential partners are enthusiastic about the portal.

"For a business to succeed on the Web they have to have traffic. There's no point having an e-shop if no-one comes to the shop," he said.

While Infoseek president Harry Motro has said features won't win the portal war, and that it will be a marketing war, Pedersen says features and marketing are both important. He believes people won't continue to use something that isn't useful.

He says NineMSN wants the portal to be both a destination and a gateway, and he believes it has an advantage over other portals because Hotmail and Internet Explorer are brands people are already aware of.

He believes there is a place for specialist portals as well as more generalist ones like MSN. He says the generalist sites will allow users to get 80 to 90 percent of what they're looking for on the Web, and offer them the tools to find other things they want.

Pedersen says the New Zealand preview portal is almost like a beta version, with testing to be carried out to ensure the architecture is working properly and that bugs have been ironed out. Other steps will be to categorise news into groups such as international, national and finance.

He says NineMSN recognises the need for a presence in New Zealand but emphasised it was too early to say if that would result in a physical office here.

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