Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What happened to MSN?

The nature of the competition between Google, Yahoo and MSN is search market share. Site Seeker notes “Market share. Google, Yahoo! and MSN are all competing for our attention. More users equate to more revenue via pay per click ads and other advertising opportunities.“

There is a rolling might to Google, which has been completely unaffected by either Microsoft or Yahoo. The explanation is ethics.

McLaughlin (2002, p 117) notes that 60% of adult Internet users are unaware of search engine marketing and that only 1 in 6 Internet users can tell the difference between unbiased search results and paid advertisements. Furthermore, 80% of these users when informed, ask that search sites disclose the practices of paid placement and paid inclusion.

The FTC (see Wouster, 2005, p 3) mandates that “clear and conspicuous disclosure” is necessary for both paid placement and paid inclusion. Truthfulness and disclosure is also part of the commercial world's view of social media ethics prescribed by David Scott (2007, p 205):

  • Transparency - Never pretend to be someone you are not.
  • Privacy.
  • Disclosure - Tell people about any conflict of interest.
  • Truthfulness.
  • Credit.

From the perspective of the government, and from practioners like Scott there is an admonition for truthfulness, and therefore disclosure.

Is there an impact of ethical advertising on the bottom line that would discourage businesses from applying moral principles? McLaughlin (p 119) notes that “MSN seems to serve the companies [who advertise] corporate needs as much as searcher’s interests.” On the other hand, Google is “the best of the bunch at identifying ads.” What has been the impact on market share? Stepforth has charted MSN market share for the year 2005-6.

What’s it look like over a longer haul? Worse!

Search Market Share

Year/Source ............................Google ......MSN

2004 (see Yahoo) .....................36.5 ........15.5

2005 (see Highbeam) ...............41.4 ........13.7

2006 (see Seroundtable) ..........53.7 .........9

2007 (see ReadWrite Web) .......67 ...........5.25

Conrad (1904, p 212) said, “Anything merely rational fails.” Ethics attempts to deal with the complexity of the real world. Our rational models, in order for us to think with them, are abstracted and focus on only some aspects. What we leave out can drive us to the desperation of trying to buy Yahoo.


Conrad, Joseph (1904). Nostromo. Wordsworth Editions Ltd (January 1, 1998)

McLaughlin, Laurianne (2002). The Straight Story on Search Engines. PC World.

Scott, David (2007). The New Rules of Marketing and PR. John Wiley.

Wouster, Jorgen (June 9, 2005).STILL IN SEARCH OF DISCLOSURE. Consumer Reports Web Watch.

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