Microsoft today unveils its own personalized news reading experience called Microsoft Start, which is available as a website and mobile app, and is also integrated with other Microsoft products, including Windows 10 and 11 and the Microsoft Edge web browser. The feed will combine content from news publishers, but in a way that is tailored to the individual interests of users, the company says – a customization system that could help Microsoft better compete with the news reading experiences of rivals like Apple or Google than popular third-party providers -Apps like Flipboard or SmartNews.
According to Microsoft, the product builds on the company’s legacy with online and mobile consumer services such as MSN and Microsoft News. However, it does not replace MSN. This service will continue to be available despite the introduction of this new internal competitor.
To use Microsoft Start, consumers can visit the standalone MicrosoftStart.com website, which works on both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (but not Safari), or they can download the Microsoft Start mobile app for iOS or Android.
The service will also support the news and interest experience in the Windows 10 system tray and widgets experience in Windows 11. In Microsoft Edge, it will also be available on the New Tab page.
At first glance, the Microsoft Home website, like any other online portal, offers a collection of news from various publishers, as well as widgets for things like weather, stocks, sports results, and traffic. When you click to read an article, you’ll be taken to a syndicated version hosted on the Microsoft domain that has the top Microsoft Home navigation bar at the top and emoji response buttons under the heading.
Users can also Respond to stories with emojis while browsing the home page itself.
This emoji set is similar to the one offered by Facebook today, except that Microsoft replaced Facebook’s controversial laughing face emoji with a thinking face. (It’s worth noting that Facebook’s smiling face has been increasingly criticized for using it to openly ridicule posts and mock people – even in stories depicting tragic events such as Covid deaths.)
Microsoft has also made another change to its emoji: after you have reacted to a story with an emoji, you only see your emoji instead of the top 3 and the total number of reactions.
But while online web portals are typically static aggregators of news content, Microsoft Start’s feed adapts to user interests in a number of ways.
Users can click the personalize button to be taken to a page where they can manually choose interests from a number of high-level categories such as news, entertainment, sports, technology, money, finance, travel, health, shopping, and more. Or they can look for categories and interests that could be more specific or more niche. (Instead of “parenting,” for example, “teenage parenting.”) This is reminiscent of Flipboard’s recent update to its own main page, the For You feed, which allows users to make similar decisions.
Then, when users start browsing their Microsoft Startup feed, they can also click a button to thumb up or thumb down an article to better tailor the feed to their preferences. The more the user engages with the content over time, the more refined the feed will be, says Microsoft. That customization will leverage AI and machine learning, as well as human moderation, the company notes.
Like other online portals, the feed is supported by advertising. If you scroll down you’ll notice that there is an ad unit every few lines, with the URL marked with a green “Ads” logo. At first, these seem to be mostly product ads, which is what sets them apart from the news content. Since Microsoft does not switch off MSN and integrates this news service into a number of other products, it is expanding its range of advertising space with this launch.
The website, app and integrations will be rolled out starting today. (If you can’t find the app yet, you can try scanning the QR code from your mobile device.)