IQ News: Upgrades with New-Look Car and Travel Sites

It’s been a busy two weeks for the Microsoft Network. This week, the Redmond, Wash.-based MSN launches redesigned sites with new features for its two main channels, Expedia and CarPoint. Their debut follows a redesign of the MSN main page and announcements of new partnerships with real estate brokers and listings services for its HomeAdvisor service.
The changes are part of a push by MSN to turn its assemblage of independent consumer sites into an integrated, Microsoft-branded unit. Microsoft spokespeople report traffic is up at all sites.
MSN Expedia (formerly, the travel channel, debuts today with a new interface for better functionality and a new look that’s more consistent with the revamped MSN.
A “Special Deals” section has been added in which travel-related advertisers can buy “slots” to highlight their travel bargains. Special Deals can be updated by the advertisers themselves. Advertisers also maintain their own reservation bookings, though eventually it may be undertaken by MSN. There are 40 travel partners in the program, which launched in January of 1997. Erik Blachford, lead product manager, said he expects advertiser participation to grow by 50-100 percent in the next year.
Launching Oct. 22, the beta version of MSN CarPoint 3.0 includes new features for both the general car-buying public and auto dealers. “Personal Auto Pages” let users fill in a car profile, which then generates a customized auto maintenance schedule with e-mail reminders. Site content includes information about maintenance procedures and costs.
“The Used Car Marketplace” has been revised to allow for more focused searches, including customer management and response tools available from the 2,000 dealers in the network. Dealers pay to participate and must agree to pricing and service guidelines.
On Sept. 14, Microsoft announced its plan to bolster HomeAdvisor by including service features from brokerages such as Coldwell Banker Bain, Seattle, Wash., and Prudential California Realty, Sacramento, Calif., plus eight realtor listing services.