A couple of years ago Microsoft embarked on a new product and brand named Live. From memory, the Live product was initially a fight back from Microsoft in response to the might of Google after they recognised that MSN Search wasn’t a strong enough product and brand to combat Google Web Search.
In more recent times, Microsoft have been quietly working away and releasing a number of high quality services, such as:
- Live Messenger (replacement for MSN Messenger)
- Live Mail (desktop replacement for Outlook Express & web mail)
- Live Writer (desktop blog publishing utility)
- Live Photo Gallery
Probably the most visible amongst those is Live Mail, specifically the web mail – which historically went under the banner of Hotmail. The progressive rolling out of Live Mail has been a refreshing breath of air as the existing Hotmail service was falling by the weigh side in speed and functionality compared to other newer services such as GMail from Google.
The next evolution has been plodding along from Microsoft, which is the notion of a user profile – not unlike what you have on most other web sites. You’ve long been able to login any Microsoft service with your Hotmail and subsequently Live account; Microsoft are now finally capitalising on that single sign on to embrace the social web landscape that has seen incredible growth over the last 3 years.
With recent upgrades to Live.com, when signing into your account you can get a snapshot of your online assets – such as the last x emails you’ve received in your Hotmail account and a history of your activity with various Live products like changing the status message in Live Messenger.
Today there is an amazing set of new functionality within the Live.com profiles, which allows users to consume other social network content within their profile. Microsoft are calling these things ‘web activities’ and are marketing it as a method which will allow your friends to keep on top of all things you, without having to visit potentially dozens of different web sites. The new web activities go by the name of widgets in other sites, small blocks of pluggable content from a different source which is displayed on your site. As a simple example, they have web activities to plugin your Facebook stream and literally dozens of others to your Live.com profile.
While Microsoft have come into the user profile space behind Google, who first released them in December 2007 – the evolution of the Live user profile functionality seems to be happening at a much faster pace. Google Profiles allows a user to tell others about themselves, associate their profile with other social network profiles via a simple URL and in some instances, consume content via widgets but not to the extent that the Microsoft Live profiles do.
A feature that is surely high on the Live list of functionality will be vanity URL’s for users. The current user profile URL’s are horrible and completely useless for a consumer, mine being http://cid-067d01ecc9a1cc7b.profile.live.com/. Only in the last month have Google provided vanity URL’s as an option for their profiles, which are either numeric by default or based on your Google Account username. To explore how that might get used, I’ve enabled the vanity URL’s for my Google Profile at http://www.google.com/profiles/alistair.lattimore.
I’ve been a late adopter to all things Live, so I’m really excited by the functionality and features that are flowing into the Live products. I keen to see where Microsoft are going to take this going forward – maybe there are plans for tighter integration with Facebook or their own social network down the road?