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Originally published Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 7:38 PM

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MSN starts tracking to be trendy

Microsoft aims to attract more younger viewers with new trend-tracking msnNOW, which launched this week.

Seattle Times technology reporter

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The headlines on msnNOW's inaugural night signaled the cheeky tone the new Web trend-tracking service would take:

"Model unsure who she's dating"

"Anna Wintour bravely faces public transport, survives"

Such is the stuff of modern online trends.

On Wednesday evening, Microsoft announced the launch of msnNOW, which surfaces what people are buzzing about online by tracking real-time trending topics across Web sources, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bing and BreakingNews.com.

Those who go to http://now.msn.com will see a list of keywords that are trending right at this moment and whether they're trending up or down. (Trending up as of 5 p.m. Thursday: Natalie Gulbis, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts. Surely that changed within 20 minutes. Don't know who any of these people — or Anna Wintour — are? Bing it.)

MSN's editorial staff also comments on some of the trending items, resulting in pithy, less-than-100-words posts. (Example: an item on "Plastic could be making you obese.")

The goal is to broaden MSN's audience, especially among younger users, and to deepen the audience's engagement.

People are finding out about trends differently now than in the past — especially younger, hooked-on-tech people, who are consuming information across social networks, search engines and different kinds of mobile devices.

"Signals are coming from multiple places. And people are consuming them from multiple places," said Bill Hankes, director of communications of Microsoft Online Services. "There's this fear of missing out."

Currently, most of MSN's 520 million users worldwide fall in the 30-to-45 age range. The demographic msnNOW aims to reach is those ages 25 to 40.

msnNOW will eventually take advertising. So far, there is none.

"We want to make sure we nail the consumer experience first," Hankes said. "If we're successful in growing our user base, and seeing that they love what we're delivering by the number of articles they continue to read and share, we'll know."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.

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