September monthly mailbag

Posted by Dom
September’s feedback to the homepage team was an eclectic mixture of praise, annoyance, surrealism and pleas for help.
All the homepage editors here get an automated email at 215pm every day, detailing every one of the comments that have been sent to us; whether the feedback is good or bad, it always seems to be honest and from the heart. We read every message, and whilst we can’t reply to people individually, you can rest assured that many a suggestion is discussed and acted on during the course of our daily routine.
Anyway, the big news this month was obviously our new homepage, which launched on Tuesday, September 25. For anyone wishing to get the inside story on our new look, you should read our Executive Producer Peter Bale’s blogs on the subject; here, here and here.
Peter did respond to many of your queries and comments in the course of his blog, but it’s worth summing up the general tone of your messages to us.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of users were shocked and disorientated after their first encounter of the new-look homepage; we had run a link to a guided tour of our changes for a couple of days before our fresh design went live, but perhaps this wasn’t enough.
‘I’ve been an MSN homepage fan for years & years… but no more… the new version is so confusing, far too much info on one screen and too much to look for/look at’ wrote one user. ‘All too complicated, much has been done far too soon, why don’t you go back to the way it was and start improvements gradually, giving users more time to get used to the new format,’ wrote another. As Peter said in a previous blog, we actually hadn’t made any serious changes to the look and feel of the new homepage for a whole year, so an accusation that we’d rushed into needless alterations is certainly an arguable point. However, the jump to the new look could perhaps have been signposted better for you, so we’ll be looking at ways of improving that process in the future.

Many comments came in along the lines of ‘KEEP IT SIMPLE’ and ‘too cluttered’. ‘I’m quite sure MSN has good content articles (and it does – I read them), but the layout used to show all this is rather cluttered’ concluded one person. The negative responses could, perhaps, be summed up by this scathing literary effort: ‘Why on earth did you need to change what was a perfectly good setup. Remember the old saying: ‘Oh Lord give us the sense to change that which needs to be changed, to leave alone that which need NOT be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other’… too many idiots want change which is utterly unnecessary’. 

We did, thankfully, have some positive feedback about our efforts. ‘A great improvement, if only for the fact that there’s more ‘above the fold’ for wider screens. It helps that it looks pretty too. Good job….’ went one comment; ‘I think the new homepage is great… a few small fussy things could be changed though, like the email and the logo being too far on the left… move it right just a little :-). The best thing about this change is for the first time (I think) the UK MSN homepage has a different theme and style than all the other MSN homepages in other countries’ read another.  
One of the most pleasing aspects of the feedback we’ve had so far has been the level of constructive criticism we’ve received. As I mentioned, each and every comment is taken on board, and there are already tweaks and changes underway that will respond to some of the issues you’ve mentioned in your mails. Keep your eye on the homepage over the next few weeks and let us know if we’re still failing to come up to the standards you want from MSN.
Away from new-homepage land, we’ve had plenty of comments on some of the articles we’ve run over the last four weeks. Ian’s already written a blog based on this email we received a couple of weeks ago: ‘Regarding the Madeleine McCann story, I do wish you would stop reporting rumours as facts. It seems you are willing to put anything on your page, regardless of whether it is true or not, so long as you put it in speech marks. Most times when I click on your Madeleine stories all I read is ‘could be’ this and ‘might be’ that. This is not journalism. Please only report on the story when there is something to say – in other words, actual news that has actually happened’. Read what Ian had to say on the issue here.

We were picked up on some factual inaccuracies and bloopers during the month. Referring to our headline ‘Welsh actor marries British actress’, one user wrote back: ‘If he’s Welsh, he’s British too. Is she English or what? Don’t insult all British people by failing to distinguish’. Over in the geography department, one user took issue with our assertion that Helvellyn was Britain’s highest peak, telling us that it was in fact merely England’s third highest, whilst we were put right in our description of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art being in Newcastle, when it is in fact based in Gateshead. Apologies.
Somehow the fiery entrepreneur from Dragon’s Den got referred to as ‘Gordon Ballantyne’ rather than Duncan, whilst the hoary old issue of whether Thomas Edison actually did invent the lightbulb was touched upon by this user: ‘On 7th September, your answer to the quiz ‘Who invented the lightbulb’ is incorrect. Whilst Edison is associated with its development, the British inventor Joseph Swan is attributed with the invention of the incandescent lamp. This is typical of an American website to claim that Americans did everything’. Whilst we’d take issue with the final part of that statement, sitting in our offices in the heart of London’s Victoria, after doing a spot more research we will agree that Humphry Davy and Sir Joseph Wilson Swan should get a look-in in any lightbulb-related debates.
Feedback also seemed to take a few angry turns this month. ‘Reading your article on exercise addiction, it strikes me that it is not possible to be addicted outside of a gym, since this appears to be the only sickeningly middle-England ‘yuppified’ form of physical exertion discussed in yet another tedious and worthless article which inadvertently highlights the vacuous, vain and consumer-driven society we unfortunately live in. Thank you and goodnight’ fumed one user, whilst one email to us simply read: ‘England: a has-been superpower with a fast-growing underclass of illiterate alcoholics, living on a rainwashed mud island that never sees the sun’.
‘Can you pleeeeeeeeease stop realising articles saying how c**p everything is? Be POSITIVE!’ begged one reader, whilst our angry set of missives was rounded off by this effort: ‘There is more to life and news than… minor celebrity, dating, troubled musicians and singers. I’d rather see a blank screen than what is posted on your front page’.

Finally, one instance where we actually weren’t in the wrong: 
‘Re: The X Factor judge was seen weeping on the way into the London theatre where Kelly was performing in Chicago. London theatre is in London is it not?’
And on that note, I’ll sign off. Thanks for joining me for this month’s trawl through the feedback archives; keep your comments coming and we’ll be back in 30 day’s time to see just what you’ve been sending us.
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11 Responses to September monthly mailbag

  1. James says:

       Living here in the states I like the homepage. It makes me want to return to England.

  2. cheryl says:

    My first thoughts were along the lines of: what the…!!!! But the new page grows on you. I think you guys did a good job. Change is good.

  3. Debra says:

    The US homepage,, has wisely kept the narrower page/smaller text format (with Hotmail etc still conveniently located top left of page); they obviously LISTENED to their users and insterted a PAGE OPTIONS button allowing users to CHOOSE wide/narrow page, large/small text, and colour scheme. JUST DO IT and see how quickly your feedback improves from the current 99% negative comments (why do you keep pretending there are more positive comments than there actually are??).

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