Windows Live: It’s a Social Network! It Isn’t a Social Network!

By  |  Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 11:40 pm

windowsliveWhat is Microsoft’s Windows Live? It’s always been a surprisingly tough question to answer in a coherent sentence or two. Tonight, Microsoft took the wraps off its next version of Windows Live, and it’s still difficult to pin it down, in part because it just involves so much stuff, in both service and software form: instant messaging, e-mail, calendaring, photo sharing and editing, video editing, blogging, Web storage, file syncing, and more. But one thing about the new Windows Live is clear: It’s…interesting.

That’s mostly because Microsoft is using the new version of Windows Live–which will become available in drips and drabs over the coming weeks and months–to turn the 460 million folks who use one or more Live services into something resembling a social network. It’s not meant to take on Facebook head-to-head: It’s still less of a social network and more of a suite of disparate services and apps that happen to have Facebook-like features in some cases. Starting with the new Windows Live homepage, which will sport a very Facebookian feed of your friends’ activities:


One key difference between Microsoft’s feed and Facebook’s: Microsoft has signed up scads of third parties, and yor activities at them can show up in your Windows Live feed. It’s truly an all-star roster: Amazon, Digg, LiveJournal, Pandora, PhotoBucket, Twitter, SmugMug, StumbleUpon, WordPress, Yelp, and many more, including more than a few international ones unfamiliar to me (Hyves? Jeeran?).

If this sounds a little like Facebook’s controversial Beacon advertising feature, which had people discovering that things they’d done elsewhere on the Web were showing up in their Facebook feeds without their knowledge, don’t stress: Microsoft says that all this cross-service social networking will be opt-in. Your activities won’t show up on Windows Live unless you ask for them to be there.

I’m still left with some overarching questions about the new Windows Live. Such as…

Do people want an all-encompassing set of Web services? More than any other set of services I can think of, Live does its best to do everything under the sun; it’s sheer comprehensiveness is clearly a major selling point. Bt one of the niftiest things about the Web is just how easy it is to pick and choose your tools. Me, I use Google’s Gmail, AOL’s AIM instant-messaging network (but via iChat and Meebo, not the AIM client), Yahoo’s Flickr photo sharing, and Apple’s Mobile Me calendar–four services, four different providers.

How well-integrated will the services be? The most alluring thing Microsoft could do to convince me to abandon services I’m using for Live equivalents would be to make its services and applications truly seamless and obsessively consistent in look and feel–at least as much so as, say, its own Microsoft Office apps. From what I’ve seen so far, the company hasn’t done this. (See images below.)

Is it too late get a critical mass of social networking fans onto Live? There’s a good idea at the core of Live’s new social features: Your e-mail and IM contacts form a network of friends, family, and colleagues, and you’re probably interested in what they’re up to. But no social network matters unless you’ve got a critical mass of buddies there to communicate with. At the moment, I have very few pals who hang out on Live. And unless its new features turn out to be so spellbinding that there’s a land rush like the one that prompted so many folks to head to Facebook over the past year or two, Live may remain a place with lots of social networking features but few people to network with. (For me, I mean–and yes, I know that with half a billion people on Live, chances are that I know more people there than I think.)

Remind me again what Windows Live has to do with Windows? It shares its name, but little else: In fact, Microsoft has worked commendably hard to make most of Live platform-agnostic. (It doesn’t require Windows or IE, and a splashy photo slideshow feature is the only aspect that demands you use a Microsoft app you may not already have, the Silverlight plug-in.) I’m still convinced that the future of Windows involves a hybrid approach with an OS and Web services that are so tightly integrated that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Windows+Windows Live is not this combination.

I’ll have more to say about the new Windows Live as its various components roll out. For now, how about a few screenshots?








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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Jan Says:

    One point you maybe have missed Harry is the fact that Windows Live isn’t very mobile friendly if you are not a Windows Mobile user. For me the key to these types of services is to have them available almost anywhere. Until Microsoft opens up it’s platform I’ll stick with the google services.

  2. William Says:

    We have also just launched an alpha of our hybrid Social Network.
    Unlike Microsoft and Facebook and Myspace and Ning; we are Open Source and we also give back to our “Community” can be found here
    Some of the feature of are:

    A top of the line Read/Write/Re Publish feed reader.
    A stand alone advertising Network
    Integrated Classifieds Service
    Integrated Music Store (Using SongBird)
    Integrated Application Store
    Integrated Products sells and Product affiliate sells service
    Integrated e-commerce service (Handles Micro Payments and Revenue Sharing)
    Super Distributed Micro Blogging Service “Conversations”

    We are also in the process of launching a hosted service

  3. Aaron Says:

    Interesting article, I wonder if the other networks will fight back with integration schemes of their own?

    I run a website that compares all the latest photo sharing services, prices, and features, so I use Smugmug, Snapfish, and the Facebook photo galleries plus a slew of others almost daily. The most annoying part is that I end up posting all my pictures in at least three different places! One spot would be a lot better…


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