THAILAND: MSN to launch a Thai-language blogging service

Mobile phone features, Thai search engine also in the works

Bangkok Post
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Don Sambandaraksa

A Thai-language blogging service will be launched tomorrow for Microsoft's Live Spaces site. The localised service comes because Thailand is one of the strongest user communities for Microsoft's MSN portal, according to Grant Watts, general manager for MSN and Windows Live, Southeast Asia.

''Thais just love MSN,'' Watts said, noting that last year, MSN Thailand (msn.co.th) was the second MSN site in the world to get the new revamped user interface after MSN UK.

Other localised MSN services are expected to follow the Thai blogging feature.

Watts also presented findings from an online survey of more than 1,000 Internet users about the state of blogging in Thailand. Of 8.5 million Internet users in Thailand, around 6.4 million, or three-quarters, use MSN in one way or another -- be it MSN Messenger, Hotmail or Spaces.

MSN Messenger has also appeared in four recent music videos, which means that it is very much a part of modern Thai culture today, he claimed.

The online survey of Thai Internet users showed that most users are interested in blogging to keep in contact with friends and family.

The biggest frustration from those surveyed was not knowing when a blog had been updated.

Because MSN Messenger is integrated with Live Spaces, every buddy will know that the space is updated. For instance, if a user goes on holiday and uploads photographs to their space, a star will appear next to their name on messenger, telling everyone on the list that it is updated.

Technology blogs were one of the more popular subjects, as many people today base their technology purchases around reviews and user experiences.

Forty-nine percent of respondents trusted the information presented in blogs, whereas only 36 percent trust traditional media.

Thailand has 2.5 million active Messenger users and 1.7 million active blogs on Spaces -- the highest uptake ration in Southeast Asia even before the launch of the Thai version. Watts stressed that these were active accounts, not just idle users.

The rise of blogs and user-generated content also means large sums of money from Internet advertising. While Watts was not able to share specific figures, he did say that the total advertising market in Thailand was worth US$3 billion annually, and of this online advertising was less than one percent. In the US, online advertising makes up almost six percent.

''We have massive reach compared to print, television and radio with over half a billion hits on our network each month,'' Watts said. ''That's why Microsoft is completely committed to this. Software is a $136 billion industry, advertising is over $520 billion.''

MSN Thailand has advertisers such as Bangkok Bank, Samsung, AIS, DTAC, Bridgestone and Michelin already, with Watts noting that this was not because the Internet is a novelty medium, but because the partners view it as better ROI on their advertising dollar.

Bangkok Bank and Samsung in particular are using MSN and online advertising to go beyond traditional public relations and to push their Internet banking and Samsung Fun Club services, respectively.

Another key point that was made was how Live ID, formerly known as Microsoft Passport, was now being rolled out in many Thai universities as their official student authentication system. Working with MSN, each university can have its own Live domain.

This means that for these students, their university ID and password can be used for any Live service as well as their academic systems allowing for single sign-on and ease of use. ''Any personal information will be with the university, everything is opt-in,'' Watts said when asked if this was a bit too much Microsoft in our lives.

So, how has the current political situation affected MSN in the region? Surprisingly enough, the effect was positive.

The military coup on September 19th meant that Messenger traffic reached an all-time high for Thailand as people scrambled to learn of what was happened when local news channels and cable TV fell silent.

He said that the same was true of the London bombings and even 9-11, where many people had their last contact with their loved ones through MSN Messenger connected via satellite Internet.

So what will we see moving into 2007? While Watts was not able to give specifics, he did point to the tighter integration of MSN into Vista. For instance, a user using Vista Premium or Ultimate to watch television can have the MSN Messenger window put onto the television and, with a remote keyboard, interact with contacts from the living room couch.

Another key market will be the mobile phone. Today, Thailand is regionally number one in terms of MSN traffic from or to mobiles, double the next country. MSN will be working closely with cellular operators to provide more messaging solutions.

Windows Live is also about platforms. Whereas groups in Microsoft used to be about products, Live is about building and enabling ecosystems.

For instance, Live Local, now available in the US, allows people to take the mapping element of Live Local and mash it up to create new web services.

Live Messenger will also have a new toolkit for programmers to create Live Gadgets that hook into Messenger.

Watts said that Thailand can also expect a better, more powerful Thai language search engine and major announcements with solutions for home entertainment, education and government.

''Live is about delivering you the information and then sharing it with the people you care about most in a seamless way,'' he said.