On the MSN blog there's a new blog post entitled The New MSN Homepage Unveiled which states

Today is an exciting day for our team at MSN because we unveiled the most significant redesign our MSN.com homepage has seen in over a decade. We spent thousands of hours talking with customers; testing hundreds of ideas; experimenting around the world and carefully evaluating what our users want, and don’t want - to deliver a homepage that is designed to be the best homepage on the Web. We hope you’ll agree.

So, we started from scratch to cut the clutter on our homepage and reduced the amount of links by 50%. There’s also a simplified navigation across news, entertainment, sports, money, and lifestyle that lets you drill into information topics that interest you, without being overwhelming. Local information from your neighborhood is important to you and so is high quality, in-line video – so we offer both, right on the homepage. And, you told us you want the latest information not only from your favorite sources, but also from your friends, and the breadth of the Web – so we now offer convenient access to Facebook, Twitter, & Windows Live services and the most powerful search experience on the Web from Bing, empowering you to make more informed, faster decisions. And this is just the beginning - keep visiting our blog for more MSN news in the coming weeks.

This is a really exciting release for my team on Windows Live since we're responsible for the underlying platform that powers the display of what activities your friends have been performing across Windows Live. Working with the MSN home page team was a good experience and its great to see that the tens of millions of people who visit the MSN home page regularly will now get to experience our work. Kudos to the MSN team on a very nice release.

You can try out the new home page for yourself at http://preview.msn.com

Note Now Playing: Jay-Z - Reminder Note


Categories: MSN | Windows Live

From the Live Search team blog post entitled Live Search autosuggestions come to Firefox we learn

We're happy to report that we've officially integrated Live Search into Firefox by popular demand.
The Live Search add-on for Firefox is available to install at
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/10434. It's based on the Open Search standard and uses the JSON interface supported by Firefox to retrieve autosuggestions.

Image of Live Search autosuggestions in Firefox

I'm glad to see this finally get out there since I was one of the popular demanders at work. If you're a Firefox user who's also a fan of Live Search then this is a must have extension. It's definitely improved my browsing experience when I've had to use Firefox.

By the way, it's an interesting insight into the different user bases to compare the suggested searches from Google with those from Live Search for a particular phrase.

Note Now Playing: Kelly Clarkson - My Life Would Suck Without You Note


Categories: MSN

The Live Search team has a blog post entitled Wikipedia Gets Big which reveals

Check it out:

Image of Live Search Wikipedia entry

We realize that often you just need to get a sense of what your query is about. Wikipedia is great for that — you can learn enough from the first paragraph of a Wikipedia article to start you out on the right path.

For Wikipedia results, we now show a good portion of the first paragraph and a few links from the table of contents. You can see more about the topic right there and see what else the article offers.

We hope you learn more, faster with our expanded Wikipedia descriptions. Let us know what you think.

After trying out on a few queries like "rain slick precipice", "wireshark" and "jeremy bentham" I definitely see this as a nice addition to the repertoire of features search engines use to give the right answer directly in the search results page. I've already found this to be an improvement compared to Google's habit of linking to definitions on Answer.com.

The interesting thing to note is just how often Wikipedia actually shows up in the top tier of search results for a diverse set of query terms. If you think this feature has legs why not leave a comment on the Live Search team's blog telling them what you think about it?

Now Playing: Abba - The Winner Takes It All


Categories: MSN

Disclaimer: This is my opinion. It does not reflect the intentions, strategies, plans or stated goals of my employer

Ever since the last Microsoft reorg where it's Web products were spread out across 3 Vice Presidents I've puzzled about why the company would want to fragment its product direction in such a competitive space instead of having a single person responsible for its online strategy.

Today, I was reading an interview with Chris Jones, the corporate vice president of Windows Live Experience Program Management entitled Windows Live Moves Into Next Phase with Renewed Focus on Software + Services and a lightbulb went off in my head. The relevant bits are excerpted below

PressPass: What else is Microsoft announcing today?

Jones: Today we’re also releasing a couple of exciting new services from Windows Live into managed beta testing: Windows Live Photo Gallery beta and Windows Live Folders beta.

Windows Live Photo Gallery is an upgrade to Windows Vista’s Windows Photo Gallery, offered at no charge, and enables both Windows Vista and Windows XP SP2 customers to share, edit, organize and print photos and digital home videos... We’re also releasing Windows Live Folders into managed beta today, which will provide customers with 500 megabytes of online storage at no charge.
We’re excited about these services and we see today’s releases as yet another important step on the path toward the next generation of Windows Live, building on top of the momentum of other interesting beta releases we’ve shared recently such as Windows Live Mail beta, Windows Live Messenger beta and Windows Live Writer beta....soon we’ll begin to offer a single installer which will give customers the option of an all-in-one download for the full Windows Live suite of services instead of the separate installation experience you see today. It’s going to be an exciting area to watch, and there’s a lot more to come.

PressPass: You talk a lot about a “software plus services” strategy. What does that mean and how does it apply to what you’re talking about today?

Jones: It’s become a buzz word of sorts in the industry, but it’s a strategy we truly believe in. The fact that we’re committed to delivering software plus services means we’re focused on building rich experiences on top of your Windows PC; services like those offered through Windows Live.

All the items in red font refer to Windows desktop applications in one way or the other. At this point it now made sense to me why there were three VPs running different bits of Microsoft's online products and why one of them was also the VP that owned Windows. The last reorg seems to have divided Microsoft's major tasks in the online space across the various VPs in the following manner

  • Satya Nadella: Running the search + search ads business (i.e. primarily competing with Google search and AdWords)

  • Steve Berkowitz: Running the content + display ads business (i.e. primarily competing with Yahoo!'s content and display ad offerings)

  • Steven Sinofsky and Chris Jones: Adding value to the Windows platform using online services (i.e. building something similar to iLife + .Mac for Windows users). 

From that perspective, the reorgs make a lot more sense now. The goals and businesses are different enough that having people singularly focused on each of those tasks makes more sense than having one person worry about such disparate [and perhaps conflicting] goals. The interesting question to me is what does it mean for Microsoft's Web-based Windows Live properties like Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Favorites and Windows Live Spaces if Microsoft is going to be emphasizing the Windows in Windows Live? I guess we've already seen announcements some announcements from the mail side like Windows Live Mail and the Microsoft Office Outlook Connector now being free.

Another interesting question is where  Ray Ozzie fits in all this.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | MSN | Windows Live

June 7, 2007
@ 06:06 PM

A couple of months ago, I was asked to be part of a recruiting video for Microsoft Online Business Group (i.e. Windows Live and MSN). The site with the video is now up. It's http://www.whywillyouworkhere.com. As I expected, I sound like a dork. And as usual I was repping G-Unit. I probably should have worn something geeky like what I have on today, a a Super Mario Bros. 1up T-shirt. :)


Categories: MSN | Windows Live

The MSN Soapbox team has a blog post entitled Soapbox Is Now Open For Full Video Viewing which states

We have just opened Soapbox on MSN Video for full video viewing. You no longer need to be signed into the service to view Soapbox videos!
However just as before, you still need to sign in to upload, comment, tag or rate videos. e Embedded Player is also available for full viewing and embedding.
While it might not be visible, we have spent the last month working hard on improving our backend, to make encoding and performance as scalable as possible.
We are also now conducting proactive filtering of all uploaded content, using technology from Audible Magic.Audible Magic bases their filtering on the video's audio track and their database is being updated constantly. By using this technology, we see this as an important step to ensure the viability and success of Soapbox over the long run.

You can dive right in and explore the site's new interface by checking out my friend Ikechukwu's music video. I like the redesign of the site although there seem to be a few minor usability quibbles. The content filtering is also an interesting addition to the site and was recently mentioned in the Ars Technica article Soapbox re-opens, beating YouTube to the punch with content filtering. Come to think of it, I wonder what's been taking Google so long to implement content filtering for copyrighted materials given how long they've been talking about it. It's almost as if they are dawdling to add the feature. I wonder why?

Speaking of usability issues, the main problem I have with the redesign is  that once you start browsing videos the site's use of AJAX/Flash techniques works against it. Once you click on any of the videos shown beside the one you are watching, the video changes inline instead of navigating to a new page which means the browser's URL doesn't change. To get a permalink to a video I had the hunt around in the interface until I saw a "video link"  which gave me the permalink to the video I was currently watching. Both Google Video and YouTube actually reload the page and thus change the URL when you click on a video. Even then YouTube makes the URL prominent on the page as well. Although I like the smoothness of inline transitions, making the permalink and other sharing options more prominent would make the site a lot more user friendly in my opinion.


Categories: MSN

The intrepid investigators over at LiveSide seem to have stumbled upon a Digg-like site created by Microsoft called MSN Reporter. From their post MSN enter social news arena with Digg competitor - MSN Reporter we learn

As an ongoing part of MSN's efforts to increase the amount of user generated content on its network, the Dutch MSN team has created MSN Reporter, a social news site similar to the likes of digg and reddit. Available in beta since October 2006, currently MSN Reporter has launched only in three markets, Netherlands, Belgium and Norway.

Allowing users to share and rate news on the site, it has a simple interface, much like the Digg of old. It also has Windows Live integration, with Alerts, add to Live.com and with a BlogIt! option sending posts straight to Windows Live Spaces. With buttons that says "Kicken!" and "Dumpen!" who doesn't feel the urge to participate?

So far there has been considerable interest in the new service, with reportedly 500,000 and 800,000 users visting the site in the 1st and 2nd months respectively.  With articles getting upto 10,000 votes and 1,000 comments, this is a on a completely different level to most existing social news sites.

This is a pleasent surprise. I've been wanting Microsoft to do a Digg-like site for a while but gave up on it after I stopped being able to figure out whether I should be pitching the idea to folks at MSN or Windows Live. It looks like the folks at MSN have not only taken the initiative and built a social news site but it seems to be capitalizing on the popularity of the MSN brand in Europe given some of those stats above.

PS: In other Windows Live MSN news LiveSide is claiming that Windows Live Wifi Suite will rebrand to MSN. They even post a link to http://hotspot.msn.com which is still Windows Live branded at the moment. It looks like they even scooped the product team's blog. I'm not sure if this is just a rumor or a leak since I have no insight into what goes on at MSN but it would make sense if the LiveSide story is true. . 


Categories: MSN | Windows Live

February 15, 2007
@ 03:36 AM

The MSN SoapBox team has a blog post entitled Soapbox Now in Public Beta which states

We just flipped the switch from an Invitation Only, to a Public Beta.
No need to request an invitation and sign in to watch videos on Soapbox anymore!

Cool. I guess it's now OK to start petitioning the developers of Bloglines and Google Reader to show embedded MSN Soapbox videos like in my those in my post Ads: Vista vs. Mac OS X.

I'm still not sure how I feel about MSN SoapBox. Besides the obvious branding questions, I question the wisdom of building a YouTube clone as opposed to building an experience more like MySpace Video which would leverage our existing brand and investments in offerings like MSN Windows Live Spaces. Whatever, I guess.

The site is still a rather snazzy use of Flash and there are a couple of things in the interface I think existing sites like Google Video and YouTube could learn from. Check it out at http://soapbox.msn.com.


Categories: MSN

December 12, 2006
@ 02:29 AM

I've had a number of people mention the article about Steve Berkowitz and MSN/Windows Live in the New York Times entitled Looking for a Gambit to Win at Google's Game which contains a bunch of choice negative quotes about our products supposedly from Steve Berkowitz. The article starts of without pulling punches as you can see from the following excerpt

The pressure is on for Mr. Berkowitz to gain control of Microsoft’s online unit, which by most measures has drifted dangerously off course. Over the last year, its online properties have lost users in the United States. The billions of dollars the company has spent building its own search engine have yet to pay off. And amid a booming Internet market, Microsoft’s online unit is losing money.

Google, meanwhile, is growing, prospering, and moving increasingly onto Microsoft’s turf.

Microsoft lost its way, Mr. Berkowitz says, because it became too enamored with software wizardry, like its new three-dimensional map service, and failed to make a search engine people liked to use.

A lot of decisions were driven by technology; they were not driven by the consumer,” he said. “It isn’t always the best technology that wins. It is the best experience.”
Mr. Berkowitz does not defend the brand choice he inherited.

“I don’t know if Live is the right name,” he said, saying he had not decided what to do about it. But before he gets around to deciding whether to change the brand, he wants to make Microsoft’s search engine itself more appealing to consumers.

What he did decide was to keep the MSN name afloat, too, as it is well known and its various services have 430 million users around the world. He promoted Joanne K. Bradford, Microsoft’s head of advertising sales, to oversee and revive the MSN portal.

Definitely some harsh words attributed to our corporate VP which has led some Windows Live watchers to wonder whether the brand is going to be tossed. I'm going to ignore the obvious flame bait of seeing an article claiming that one of our corporate vice presidents criticized what is probably the only best of breed online service we provide (i.e. http://maps.live.com) and just focus on an implicit yet incorrect assumption carried throughout the article. The assumption is that Steve Berkowitz runs Windows Live.

I've commented on our org chart before but here is a refresher course for the reporters and bloggers out there that feel compelled to write about Windows Live and MSN. If you go back to the press release after our last major reorg Microsoft Realigns Platforms & Services Division for Greater Growth and Agility you'll notice that it beaks out Microsoft's internet business into the following three pieces

Windows and Windows Live Group
With Sinofsky in charge, the Windows and Windows Live Group will have engineering teams focused on delivering Windows and engineering teams focused on delivering the Windows Live experiences. Sinofsky will work closely with Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie and Blake Irving to support Microsoft’s services strategy across the division and company.
Windows Live Platform Group
Blake Irving will lead the newly formed Windows Live Platform Group, which unites a number of MSN teams that have been building platform services and capabilities for Microsoft’s online offerings. This group provides the back-end infrastructure services, platform capabilities and global operational support for services being created in Windows Live, Office Live, and other Microsoft and third-party applications that use the Live platform. This includes the advertising and monetization platforms that support all Live service offerings.
Online Business Group
The new Online Business Group includes advertising sales, business development and marketing for Live Platforms, Windows Live and MSN — including MSN.com, MSNTV and MSN Internet Access. David Cole, senior vice president, will lead this group until his successor is named before his leave of absence at the end of April. [Dare - Steve Berkowitz is the replacement]

As you can see from the above press release you'll note that Steve Berkowitz owns the sales, marketing and business aspects of Windows Live but not the products themselves. Steven Sinofsky and his subordinates, specifically Chris Jones and Christopher Payne, are responsible for Windows Live. Although Steve Berkowitz is probably the right guy to talk to about the marketing and branding of Windows Live, he probably isn't the right person to talk to about the future of Windows Live products like search (holla at Christopher Payne) or email/IM/blogging (talk to Chris Jones).

I find it interesting to see articles like NY Times: Will Berkowitz keep Windows Live? because I think although things are confusing now with two poorly differentiated and overlapping brands, it would send out the wrong signal to the the market, our competitors and our customers if we decided to go back to the MSN brand for all our online services. What do you think? 


Categories: MSN | Windows Live

From the blog post entitled 1GB storage allocation for free Hotmail accounts is live! on the Hotmail Windows Live Mail team's blog we learn

1GB storage allocation for free Hotmail accounts is live! If you are new to Hotmail, then your account is created automatically with 1GB storage allocation. All existing accounts are at 1GB. To see that you would need sign out and sign in again. The storage meter bar in our classic UI would show 1000 as the max number. If your account is migrated to Windows Live Mail then your storage allocation is 2GB.

This is great news for the hundreds of millions of people with Hotmail accounts. Kudos to the mail team on making this switch.


Categories: MSN | Windows Live

I just saw some article entitled Ten Worst Internet Acquisitions Ever which contains the following excerpt

10. Hotmail - acquired by Microsoft (MSFT) in 1998 for about $400 million. Hotmail was a second-tier free email service when Microsoft bought it and the acquisition did little to improve Microsoft's internet portal ambitions.

This looks like another example of journalists bloggers fail to do even a modicum of research. Since I'm being lazy, I'll just use the Alexa traffic details for MSN to debunk this silliness.  According to Alexa, MSN is the #2 site on the internet with over 84% of the traffic being to hotmail.msn.com.

It seems to me that Hotmail has contributed a lot in furthering Microsoft's internet portal ambitions. Then again, don't let the facts get in your way of thowing snarky comments at Microsoft. ;)


Categories: MSN

If you are a 'Web 2.0' watcher by now you've seen the hubbub over the Peanut Butter Manifesto memo which is an Yahoo! internal memo authored by Brad Garlinghouse, a senior VP at the company. The memo is a rant against the typical list of woes that face big companies (e.g. the contradiction of being spread too thin yet having too many people, duplicative products and misaligned goals across the company). What I've found most interesting hasn't been the memo but instead the responses to it.

For example, in a blog post entitled Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse Makes His Power Move Mike Arrington views the memo as a clever attempt at an internal coup by Brad Garlinghouse. However even more interesting is the following comment in response to Arrington's post by someone named gullova which is excerpted below

Yahoo continues to get whipped by Google because its leaders can not get the product and engineering teams to focus on the right projects.

Witness Panama (the new ad system). Yahoo has been talking about Panama since early 2004. Yet the product they are launching is barely what Google had 2 years ago.

They threw hundreds of people at Panama, hurting other projects along the way, yet ultimately they are building the wrong product. Panama is far too focused he needs of search advertisers, which makes little sense since Yahoo’s search share has been shrinking since the day they dropped Google and launched their own search engine.

Had Panama instead been about display advertising, Yahoo could have at minimum increased monetization on Yahoo, which lets remind ourselves is still the largest site on the web and which they could monetize at 0% TAC (so its all gravy to the bottom line).

Yahoo is full of guys like Brad who can articulate themselves well and give great presentations. The problem is that the engineering team doesn’t listen to them, and the executive team doesn’t make them listen.

If they really want to get listened to, they should just shut down Panama and run Google ads instead. Its not a stretch to say they’d probably make more money.

The last sentence is the kicker for me. What if instead of competing with Google by funding its own search engine and advertising product, Microsoft partnered with Google like AOL has done? One of the pros of doing this are that it would free up a huge commitment of resources in competing with an industry leader that is years ahead of Microsoft to then focus on building applications that grow its audience directly which is then left to Google to monetize. Another possible pro is that the average revenue per user (ARPU) may go up with Google AdSense + AdWords being used to monetize Windows Live and MSN audiences as opposed to Microsoft's offerings. However a couple of minutes searching online doesn't given enough public data to determine whether this would be the case or not.

The cons are many. The first is that Microsoft would be seen to be admitting defeat if it switched to using Google's monetization engine although from a purely business perspective this isn't a significant con. Another con is that Microsoft would be enriching a competitor who is targetting one of its cash cows for obsolesence. See Google Docs & Spreadsheets, the JotSpot purchase and Google Apps for your Domain which are all attempts at attacking the success of Microsoft Office and related products like Microsoft Exchange. In this case, Microsoft would be guilty of being penny wise and pound foolish. The final con and perhaps the biggest problem with Microsoft going with the Google monetization engine is that it makes Microsoft entirely dependent on a single customer/supplier [who was also a rival] for a majority of the revenue from its online businesses.

When I started this post I tried to keep an open mind about the idea but by the time I finished writing it was clear that this is a bad idea. Funny how that happens.


November 13, 2006
@ 06:47 PM

The folks behind Microsoft's video sharing site MSN SoapBox have a team blog at http://soapboxteam.spaces.live.com. You should swing by and say hello. You might learn a thing or two. For example, I found out from the post entitled Spaces and Live.com Embedded Video Gadget that one can create a playlist of videos that is displayed when the SoapBox player is embedded in another website. The relevant excerpt is shown below

Dare spent the weekend updating his Embedded Video Gadget to allow Soapbox ideos to play within a Spaces and Live.com gadget.  The good news is that the Embedded Video Gadget now allows embedding single videos, as well as multiple videos, such as My Videos and My Favorites. 

The videos you see at the top of the Soapbox Team Blog, are an actual My Favorites example.

This is a pretty sweet feature and one I've not seen used a lot by other video sharing sites. I've been exchanging some mail with the team and they've been pretty good about responding to feedback and sharing information. If you have some ideas for the team or just want to find out how to get an invite to the beta go ahead and leave a comment in their blog.


Categories: MSN

September 27, 2006
@ 02:27 AM

Via Nicole's post on the Messenger Says blog entitled Up on a Soapbox I found out that videos beta users (like me) post on MSN Soapbox can be viewed by folks who haven't been invited to the service. I posted my friend Ikechukwu's rap video up there. You can compare the video viewing experience of MSN Soapbox to Youtube by watching the video on both sites, check it out

  1. My name is... by Ikechukwu on MSN Soapbox

  2. My name is... by Ikechukwu on Youtube

I was expecting an AJAX site but was surprised to see how much Flash is used instead. I'm still trying out the features of the site but so far it looks good for a beta.

Categories: MSN

September 19, 2006
@ 01:40 PM

From the press release entitled MSN Launches Beta of Soapbox on MSN Video we learn

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 18, 2006 — MSN today announced the U.S. beta release of Soapbox on MSN® Video, a user-uploaded video service that makes it easy for people to express themselves by uploading, discovering and sharing personal videos with the Soapbox community and others around the world. Soapbox will be available on MSN Video and will be deeply integrated throughout Microsoft Corp.’s portfolio of online services, including Windows Live™ Spaces and Windows Live Messenger.

“Soapbox delivers on a critical component of the MSN growth strategy of deepening audience engagement by enabling people to participate in the content experience,” said Rob Bennett, general manager of Entertainment and Video Services for MSN. “By adding a user-uploaded video service, we are rounding out our existing investments in commercially produced and original content on MSN Video.”

The beta of Soapbox on MSN Video is available on an invitation-only basis in the U.S. Those interested in participating in the beta can sign up for the waiting list now at http://soapbox.msn.com. Access to the beta will expand over time by enabling existing beta testers to invite a limited number of friends.

I'm on the invite list for the beta but I haven't tried out the site yet. However there is a brief overview of the site at TechCrunch in the post Microsoft SoapBox Just Launched by Mike Arrington. He writes

Om Malik says, via a commenter, that “Soapbox autodetects your browser + platform and streams WM for IE/Windows users, but Flash for Firefox/Windows and Firefox+Safari on Mac.” LiveSide says videos up to 100 MB in size can be uploaded in AVI, ASF, WMV, MOV, MPEG 1/2/4, 3GPP, DV file formats

I'll try out the service myself later this week and see if I can get any invites to share with folks who are interested in giving it a shot once they give us invites.


Categories: MSN

February 17, 2006
@ 02:23 AM

For those who missed it, the MSN AdCenter team now has a blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/adcenter. The most recent post is about the New adCenter Release Coming Up and it reads

You may be asking yourself, "Why a new version?" Well, our goal is both to make your adCenter campaign management easier and to improve your user experience. We've learned a lot from the customer feedback we've gotten so far, and now we're ready to share our ideas with you.

Updates include:
1. Order creation process simplified into 4 steps
2. Broader differentiation between campaigns and orders  
3. New pricing tab includes all budget, bidding, and incremental pricing
4. Negative keywords can be applied at the order level
5. Keyword / ad rejections include reason codes

 and lots of other cool changes - I'll post more details here later in the week so you'll know what to expect when you login after the release - and when the release will happen.

This is one product I can't wait for Microsoft to ship. It's cool that we want to improve our search engine and other online properties to be more competitive but it is all for naught if we don't have a good story around how we and our customers make money from our services. AdCenter to the rescue...


Categories: MSN

Recently we had some availability issues with MSN Spaces which have caused some  complaints from some of our loyal customers. Mike Torres addresses these issues in his post Performance & uptime which states

One of the hardest parts about running a worldwide service with tens of millions of users is maintaining service performance and overall uptime.  As a matter of fact, a member of our team (Dare) had some thoughts about this not too long ago.  While we're constantly working towards 100% availability and providing the world's fastest service, sometimes we run into snags along the way that impact your experience with MSN Spaces.
That seems to have happened yesterday.  For the networking people out there, it turned out to be a problem with a load balancing device resulting in packet loss (hence the overall slowness of the site).  After some investigation, the team was able to determine the cause and restore the site back to normal.
Rest assured that as soon as the service slows down even a little bit, or it becomes more difficult to reach individual spaces, we're immediately aware of it here within our service operations center.  Within minutes we have people working hard to restore things to their normal speedy and reliable state.  Of course, sometimes it takes a little while to get things back to normal - but don't believe for a second that we aren't aware or concerned about the problem.  As a matter of fact, almost everyone on our team uses Spaces daily (surprise!) so we are just as frustrated as you are when things slow down.  So I'm personally sorry if you were frustrated yesterday - I know I was!  We are going to continue to do everything we can to minimize any impact on your experience...  most of the time we'll be successful and every once in a while we won't.  But it's our highest priority and you have a firm commitment from us to do so.

I'm glad to seeing us be more transparent about what's going on with our services. This is a good step.


Categories: MSN

November 3, 2005
@ 07:21 PM

From the press release Microsoft Acquires FolderShare, a File-Synchronization Technology Provider we learn

REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 3, 2005 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it has acquired FolderShare™, a leading service in the emerging space of file synchronization and remote access technology that helps customers access information across multiple devices. FolderShare customers will continue to be able to enjoy the service at http://www.foldershare.com. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Launched in 2002 and owned and operated by Austin, Texas-based ByteTaxi Inc., the award-winning FolderShare service saves customers the hassle of sending large files via e-mail, burning them to CDs or DVDs and mailing them, or uploading them to a Web site. Instead, it allows customers to sync important information, making it well suited for personal or small-business use. The FolderShare service also enables private, remote access to customers’ own files from any Web browser.

"Our mission for Windows Live™ is to enable customers to easily find the information, pursue the interests and deepen the relationships that enrich their lives," said Blake Irving, corporate vice president of the MSN Communication Services and Member Platform group at Microsoft. "I'm thrilled with the acquisition of FolderShare and the opportunity to offer this technology with Windows Live software and services. FolderShare technology will help customers access their information anytime, anywhere and on multiple devices, unifying their overall experience."

FolderShare is an awesome product so this is definitely good news. Even better is that they are joining our group (the Communication Services Platform). Windows Live is looking better and better every day.


Categories: MSN

Yesterday Dave Winer wrote in a post about cloning the Google API Dave Winer wrote

Let's make the Google API an open standard. Back in 2002, Google took a bold first step to enable open architecture search engines, by creating an API that allowed developers to build applications on top of their search engine. However, there were severe limits on the capacity of these applications. So we got a good demo of what might be, now three years later, it's time for the real thing.

and earlier that
If you didn't get a chance to hear yesterday's podcast, it recommends that Microsoft clone the Google API for search, without the keys, and without the limits. When a developer's application generates a lot of traffic, buy him a plane ticket and dinner, and ask how you both can make some money off their excellent booming application of search. This is something Google can't do, because search is their cash cow. That's why Microsoft should do it. And so should Yahoo. Also, there's no doubt Google will be competing with Apple soon, so they should be also thinking about ways to devalue Google's advantage.

This doesn't seem like a great idea to me for a wide variety of reasons but first, let's start with a history lesson before I tackle this specific issue

A Trip Down Memory Lane
This history lesson used to be is in a post entitled The Tragedy of the API by Evan Williams but seems to be gone now. Anyway, back in the early days of  blogging the folks at Pyra [which eventually got bought by Google] created the Blogger API  for their service. Since Blogspot/Blogger was a popular service, a the number of applications that used the API quickly grew. At this point Dave Winer decided that since the Blogger API was so popular he should implement it in his weblogging tools but then he decided that he didn't like some aspects of it such as application keys (sound familiar?) and did without them in his version of the API. Dave Winer's version of the Blogger API became the MetaWeblog API. These APIs became de facto standards and a number of other weblogging applications implemented them.

After a while, the folks at Pyra decided that their API needed to evolve due to various flaws in its design. As Diego Doval put it in his post a review of blogging APIs, The Blogger API is a joke, and a bad one at that. This lead to the creation of the Blogger API 2.0. At this point a heated debate erupted online where Dave Winer berated the Blogger folks for deviating from an industry standard. The irony of flaming a company for coming up with a v2 of their own API seemed to be lost on many of the people who participated in the debate. Eventually the Blogger API 2.0 went nowhere. 

Today the blogging API world is a few de facto standards based on a hacky API created by a startup a few years ago, a number of site specific APIs (LiveJournal API, MovableType API, etc) and a number of inconsistently implemented versions of the Atom API.

On Cloning the Google Search API
To me the most salient point in the hijacking of the Blogger API from Pyra is that it didn't change the popularity of their service or even make Radio Userland (Dave Winer's product) catch up to them in popularity. This is important to note since this is Dave Winer's key argument for Microsoft cloning the Google API. 

Off the top of my head, here are my top three technical reasons for Microsoft to ignore the calls to clone the Google Search APIs

  1. Difference in Feature Set:  The features exposed by the API do not run the entire gamut of features that other search engines may want to expose. Thus even if you implement something that looks a lot like the Google API, you'd have to extend it to add the functionality that it doesn't provide. For example, compare the features provided by the Google API to the features provided by the Yahoo! search API. I can count about half a dozen features in the Yahoo! API that aren't in the Google API.

  2. Difference in Technology Choice: The Google API uses SOAP. This to me is a phenomenally bad technical decision because it raises the bar to performing a basic operation (data retrieval) by using a complex technology.  I much prefer Yahoo!'s approach of providing a RESTful API and MSN Windows Live Search's approach of providing RSS search feeds and a SOAP API for the folks who need such overkill.

  3. Unreasonable Demands: A number of Dave Winer's demands seem contradictory. He asks companies to not require application keys but then advises them to contact application developers who've built high traffic applications about revenue sharing. Exactly how are these applications to be identified without some sort of application ID?  As for removing the limits on the services? I guess Dave is ignoring the fact that providing services costs money, which I seem to remember is why he sold weblogs.com to Verisign for a few million dollars. I do agree that some of the limits on existing search APIs aren't terribly useful. The Google API limit of 1000 queries a day seems to guarantee that you won't be able to power a popular application with the service.
  4. Lack of Innovation: Copying Google sucks.


Categories: MSN | Web Development

November 2, 2005
@ 02:38 AM

The stuff I've been working on over the past couple of months is so close to shipping I can taste it. For now you'll have to whet your appetites with the information on the list of upcoming Windows Live Offerings which include

Explore and Find New Interests

Windows Live will deliver new ways for customers to discover and explore:

Social Networking. Social Networking features for Windows Live will be based on the people whom customers know rather than strangers who may visit their blog or Web site. Social Networking in Windows Live will be centered on a customer’s unified contact list, enabling the user to find and connect with people who have similar interests, but may be new to his or her social circle. Customers will be able to choose and control who has access to discover and connect with them.

Windows Live Spaces. Microsoft will continue to invest in services that help people express themselves, and find, connect and nurture deeper relationships with others around the world. MSN Spaces will transition to Windows Live Spaces as Microsoft adds new features to the service next year.

We have a bunch of great stuff coming up over the next year or so. Thanks to Mike for spotting this list. He and I worked closely on the design of Social Networking for Windows Live and it's a feature I know lots of our users will love.


Categories: MSN

November 1, 2005
@ 10:05 PM

Today Microsoft announced Windows Live. The official blurb is in the press release at Microsoft Previews New Windows Live and Office Live Services

SAN FRANCISCO — Nov. 1, 2005 — Microsoft Corp. today previewed two new Internet-based software services — Windows Live™ and Microsoft® Office Live — designed to deliver rich and seamless experiences to individuals and small businesses. The new offerings combine the power of software plus services and are compelling enhancements to the Microsoft Windows® and Microsoft Office products. In particular, Windows Live helps bring together all the elements of an individual’s digital world while Office Live helps small companies do business online.

Windows Live

Windows Live™ is a set of personal Internet services and software designed to bring together in one place all of the relationships, information and interests people care about most, with more safety and security features across their PC, devices and the Web. Microsoft demonstrated early versions of several new Windows Live offerings, some of which are accessible at http://ideas.live.com, a new Web site where people can try the latest Windows Live beta services:

Live.com serves as the personalized starting point for Windows Live services, powered by cutting-edge technologies such as RSS and Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX). Live.com offers complete choice and customization for individuals who want quick access to the people and information they care about most. Live.com, which will be a great place to experience Windows Live Search, is available for trial today.

Windows Live™ Mail is a new, global Web e-mail service, built from the ground up to be faster, safer and simpler. Existing MSN® Hotmail® users will be able to seamlessly upgrade to the new service. People can sign up for the beta waiting list at http://ideas.live.com.

Windows Live™ Messenger helps individuals deepen their connections with the people they care about through instant messaging, file and photo sharing, PC-based calling, and more. Windows Live Messenger will enter the beta stage later this year. More information is available at http://ideas.live.com.

Windows Live™ Safety Center is a Web site where users can scan for and remove viruses from their PC on demand. The service is currently in beta form, available at http://ideas.live.com.

Windows OneCare™ Live is a previously announced PC health subscription that helps protect and maintain PCs via an integrated service that includes anti-virus, firewall, PC maintenance, and data backup and restore capability. People can sign up for the beta waiting list at http://ideas.live.com.

Windows Live™ Favorites is a service that enables individuals to access their Microsoft Internet Explorer and MSN Explorer favorites from any PC that’s online. The service is currently in beta form at http://ideas.live.com.

Windows Live will be offered alongside MSN.com, a global leader in services with more than 215 million active MSN Hotmail accounts; more than 185 million MSN Messenger contacts worldwide; and over 25 million MSN Spaces created by individuals to share their photos, Web logs (blogs) and interests with friends. MSN.com will continue to deliver rich programmed content and provide access to Windows Live services.

As someone who works on MSN Windows Live products I've seen about ten hours of presentations over the past few months on what this means for us and have come up with a simple way of explaining it to the uninitiated.

From a practical perspective, when I think about Windows Live I think about three things:

  1. User-centric web applications with rich user interfaces: You can expect more applications with rich, dynamic, user interfaces such as has been shown in the Mail beta and on http://www.live.com. For the geeks out there this means that you'll be seeing a lot more AJAX applications coming out of us and a focus on software that puts the user in control of their online experience.

  2. Smart desktop applications that improve the Windows user experience:  The MSN division has slowly become Microsoft's consumer software division. From desktop search to instant messaging, a number of key applications that were once thought of as bits that ship with the operating system are now being shipped on a more frequent basis by MSN. With Windows Live, this reality is being acknowledged and embraced. Expect to see more beneficial integration between consumer applications coming from Microsoft and our web properties such as the integration between MSN Messenger & MSN Spaces.

  3. The Web as a platform:  http://msdn.microsoft.com/msn was just the beginning, expect a lot more. Coincidentally I just finished giving a presentation to a few hundred of my co-workers from across the company on MSN Windows Live services as a Web platform. This is definitely an area I will be spending a lot of my time on in the following months.

To meet this vision will require some new offerings from Microsoft and the reworking of some existing products as well. In some cases, this will simply look like a branding change while in others it will be deeper fundamental changes in how the application works. You can try out some of the Windows Live applications today at http://ideas.live.com/.

Of course, this isn't an official explanation. That is what you'll find in the press release. Instead this is my interpretation based on talking to various folks who've been working on this and the various presentations we've gotten on the topic on my team. There is going to be a lot written about Windows Live over the next couple of days and a lot of it will be inaccurate or fueled by speculation. What I've written above is as accurate a picture as I can paint based on the knowledge I have as someone who now works on this stuff.


Categories: MSN

From the press release MSN Search Announces MSN Book Search we learn

SAN FRANCISCO — Oct. 25, 2005 — MSN Search today announced its intention to launch MSN® Book Search, which will support MSN Search’s efforts to help people find exactly what they’re looking for on the Web, including the content from books, academic materials, periodicals and other print resources. MSN Search intends to launch an initial beta of this offering next year. MSN also intends to join the Open Content Alliance (OCA) and work with the organization to scan and digitize publicly available print materials, as well as work with copyright owners to legally scan protected materials.

"With MSN Book Search, we are excited to be working with libraries worldwide to digitize and index information from the world’s printed materials, taking another step in our efforts to better answer people’s questions with trusted content from the best sources," said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of MSN Search at Microsoft Corp. "We believe people will benefit from the ability to not just view a page, but to easily act on that data in contextually relevant ways, both online in the search experience and in the applications they are using."

MSN will first make available books that are in the public domain and is working with the Internet Archive to digitize the material. MSN will then work to extend its offering to other types of offline content. The digitized content will primarily be print material that has not been copyrighted, and Microsoft will clearly respect all copyrights and work with each partner providing the information to work out mutually agreeable protections for copyrights.

If you're keeping track that means all three major search engines (Yahoo!, Google and MSN) have announced book search engines. So far only Google is facing lawsuits from publishers because it plans to digitize copyrighted works unless the copyright holders explicitly opt-out. Expecting that publishers and authors will have to go to each search engine vendor that plans to offer a book search service to explicitly tell them not to redistribute their works seems to be putting an unnecessary burden on copyright holders and runs counter to the spirit of copyrights. 

The lawsuits around Google Print may turn out to be an interesting turning point in how copyright is viewed in the digital era.


Categories: MSN

October 24, 2005
@ 03:07 AM

The official XBox website recently announced the My XBox service which offers seamless integration between Xbox 360, Xbox Live®, and Xbox.com. The announcement contains the following excerpt

Clinton: Once you've created your gamer card, we give you all kinds of ways to show it off. It'll appear next to all of your posts in the forums, plus you can pop it into your personal Web page or blog, and even display it on your active Windows® desktop.

TriXie: Very cool! I heard a rumor that we'll be able to get some cool Xbox® functionality with MSN Spaces.

Clinton: That's true. When the new version of MSN Spaces launches—around the time Xbox 360 hits store shelves—you'll be able to use Xbox 360 themes on your Space, plus drop in new Xbox modules like your gamer card and your games list.

TriXie: Wow, you guys have thought of everything. I can't wait to get my hands on all these great My Xbox features! Thanks Clinton.

We definitely have some holiday gifts for our millions of users in the next version of MSN Spaces. It is very exciting to think that in the near future millions of people will be using the features I worked on to better express themselves and share content with their friends and family online. As Mike mentioned on his blog, "You can blog on MSN Spaces, but MSN Spaces is not just a blogging service."


Categories: MSN

I've been using MSN Virtual Earth for a while now and like it quite a lot. However there is definitely room for improvement and I'm glad to see that the team is soliciting feedback from users on what features they consider most important for the next release. In the post Suggestions for Virtual Earth Release 2? they write

The VE team is rolling on the next release and is interested in your feature requests. Lets make it interesting - You have 10 bucks to spend on features. How would you spend 'em? Post your comments here. My shopping list might look like this -
4  Street maps for Italy
3  Driving directions integrated in the application and not linked off to maps.msn.com
3  improved WiFi coverage for the Locate me feature in rural areas.
You get the idea. Go ahead, buy your features. Just remember to stay within your budget :-)

If you use VE and have some features you'd like to see in the next release, go ahead and post a comment with your requests. Here's how I'd spend my $10 on features; $2 to expand the Virtual Earth API to include conversions from physical addresses to latitudes & longitudes (aka geocoding), $3 to integrate driving directions into VE as opposed to being linked to http://maps.msn.com as is done today, $4 to add the ability to store my favorite locations in VE, and $1 to add maps of Canada to the service.

So how would you spend your dollars on VE features?


Categories: MSN

Dave Sifry, the CEO of Technorati, has a regular series of posts called The State of the Blogosphere where provides various statistics about the number of blogs Technorati is tracking. In State of the Blogosphere, October 2005 Part 1: On Blogosphere Growth he writes

About 70,000 new weblogs are tracked every day, which is about a new weblog created each second, somewhere in the world. It also appears that blogging is taking off around the world, and not just in English. Some of the significant increases we've seen over the past 3 months have been due to a proliferation of chinese-speaking weblogs, both on MSN Spaces as well as on Chinese sites like blogcn.com .

The growth of the Chinese blogosphere on MSN Spaces is a trend those of us working on Spaces have seen first hand. I wouldn't be surprised if we are one of the biggest blog hosting services for Chinese bloggers. An interesting side effect of this growth is that an increasing number of blogs in the Technorati Top 100 are blogs that are popular with Chinese users of MSN Spaces.

Below is a list of the MSN Spaces on today's version of the top 100 list 

27. spaces.msn.com/members/princesscecicastle
11,999 links from 3,455 sites. View All »

30. Hack MSN Spaces
­Spaces Customization at its Best™
By Devdutt Parikh
12,540 links from 3,329 sites. View All »

41. spaces.msn.com/members/slim
By slim
8,569 links from 2,771 sites. View All »

47. Herramientas para Blogs
Herramientas para spaces. Un blog sobre personalización de los spaces
By mmadrigal madrigal
7,309 links from 2,578 sites. View All »

49. Scott's "SiteExperts" Place
Web developers, Web developers, Web developers! MSN Client architect who shares his thoughts on DHTML, AJAX, Client Frameworks, etc., and how we are engineering MSN properties.
By Scott Isaacs
7,103 links from 2,509 sites. View All »

66. spaces.msn.com/members/flowersummer
6,405 links from 2,118 sites. View All »

71. spaces.msn.com/members/locker2man
By locker2man
5,358 links from 2,026 sites. View All »

74. spaces.msn.com/members/hcy521
6,640 links from 2,007 sites. View All »

It is interesting to note that every space on the Technorati Top 100 list is either Chinese or is about customizing/hacking the MSN Spaces user interface which is popular among our Chinese users. I'd never have guessed that these would be the most popular spaces when we launched the service last year.


Categories: MSN

I've been watching this unfold at work and it's great to know it's now official. From the press release Microsoft and Yahoo! Announce Landmark Interoperability Agreement to Connect Consumer Instant Messaging Communities Globally we learn

SUNNYVALE, Calif., and REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 12, 2005 — Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: “MSFTâ€) today announced a landmark agreement to connect users of their consumer instant messaging (IM) services on a global basis. The industry’s first interoperability agreement between two distinct leading global consumer IM providers will give MSN® Messenger and Yahoo!® Messenger users the ability to interact with each other, forming what is expected to be the largest consumer IM community in the world, estimated to be more than 275 million strong.

Being able to instant message between IM communities is one of the features most requested by MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger users, and Microsoft and Yahoo! share a commitment to provide IM interoperability while keeping consumer security and privacy first and foremost. In addition to exchanging instant messages, consumers from both communities will be able to see their friends’ online presence, share select emoticons, and easily add new contacts from either service to their friends’ list, all as part of their free IM service.* Yahoo! and Microsoft plan to introduce these interconnectivity capabilities between MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger to customers around the world in the second quarter of 2006, and in doing so expect to help make IM an even more useful part of consumers’ online communications and communities.

This is really good news and a step in the right direction with regards to interoperability across instant messaging applications. Now I have to go nag the folks across the hall about what this means for folks like me who use our "@yahoo.com" email addresses as our Messenger sign-in names. I already had to switch once from my "@microsoft.com" address when Microsoft started using Live Communication Server internally. 

I'll see what I can find out from folks when they get into work later today and report back.


Categories: MSN

More info keeps spilling out about the beta of the Hotmail "Kahuna" release. If you go to http://join.msn.com/mailbeta/features, you'll get an overview of the new features in the next version of Hotmail including screenshots. The list includes

As the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. It's a lot easier to appreciate the work that's gone into the next version of Hotmail when you actually see it. Even better is using it, so don't forget to sign up for the beta by going to http://www1.imagine-msn.com/minisites/hotmail/Default.aspx.


Categories: MSN

October 10, 2005
@ 09:19 PM

I've seen a couple of complaints online from people who saw the video of the Hotmail "Kahuna" release but couldn't get into the beta. The beta is now open to the general public. If you'd like to sign up for the beta, just click on the link below and follow the steps listed


I'm totally digging the beta and have definitely been impressed with the improvements in the service. Kahuna is gearing up to be an excellent release.


Categories: MSN

There's been a bunch of MSN Virtual Earth hacking going on in my building over the past couple of weeks. There was my Seattle Movie Finder hack. Recently two folks on the MSN Messenger team created a shared map browsing application using the recently released MSN Messenger Activity API. Chandu Thota has the details in his post Virtual Earth and MSN Messenger : Peer-2-Peer Mapping Experience

If you are running MSN Messenger 6.0 or higher, open a conversation with your contact and click on "Activities" menu item; it will display a list of activities that you can use which includes "Virtual Earth Shared Map" as shown below:

Once you and your contact accept this activity you both can find, pan and zoom on the Virtual Earth map all interactively, like the one shown below:

Okay, I don't want to waste your time anymore - this is one of the coolest things I have seen in this space - try it out! you won't be disappointed! :)

PS: Kudos to Steve Gordon and Shree Madhavapeddi from MSN for creating such a wonderful app!

I got a demo of this from Steve and Shree last week, I didn't realize that it would show up in the MSN Messenger application so soon. That is some quick turn around time.

I also got a demo of a cool Start.com gadget which uses MSN Virtual Earth from Matt this week. I wonder how long that will take to sneak out onto the Web.

PS: In his post about this Robert Scoble states that the application was created by Scott Swanson. This isn't accurate, Scott wrote a similar application as a PDC demo but the version you can get in MSN Messenger activities menu isn't it.


Categories: MSN

While using Firefox this morning, I just realized something was missing. There is a Google Toolbar for Firefox, there is a Yahoo! Toolbar for Firefox, so how come there isn't an MSN Toolbar for Firefox? Just yesterday, Ken Moss who runs the MSN Search team posted on their blog about MSN Search Plugins for Firefox where he wrote

However, some of our customers prefer using Firefox and we respect that choice.  Some developers in our user community have created Firefox plug-ins to make it easy to do searches on MSN from the Firefox search box.  Even though it’s currently buried in Firefox under “Add Engines… Find lots of other search engines…”, it seems that our customers have been finding it since we’re listed as one of the most popular search engine plugins.

I use Firefox sometimes in the course of my job – and when I do, I love having the MSN Search engine plugged-in up in the chrome.  If you’re currently a Firefox user – I hope you’ll enjoy this little nugget. For more MSN Search fun with Firefox (or IE!), try out the PDC version of MSN Search enabled by a Trixie / Greasemonkey script.

It's cool to see the MSN Search team giving a shout out to plugins built by the developer community but I think it would be even cooler if we step up to the plate like Yahoo! and Google have done by providing an official,  full fledged toolbar for Firefox.


Categories: MSN

From the press release MSN Launches Paid-Search Service in France and Singapore we learn

NEW YORK — Sept. 26, 2005 — Today, Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of the MSN® Information Services & Merchant Platform division, opened the second annual Advertising Week 2005 in New York City by announcing the official launch of adCenter in France and Singapore. adCenter powers a paid-search service from MSN that provides advanced audience intelligence and targeting capabilities to help advertisers improve their return on investment when it comes to paid-search advertising.The official launch of adCenter in France today and Singapore on Aug. 31 follows successful pilot programs in both countries. U.S. testing of adCenter is set to begin in October.
Powerful campaign management tools and deep audience intelligence unique to MSN make it easy for advertisers to optimize and refine their campaigns to reach a specific audience. Some of those tools include the following:

  •  Keyword Selection allows advertisers to indicate whom they want to reach based on geographic location, gender, age range, time of day and day of week, and suggests keywords based on the desired audience.

  • Site Analyzer assists advertisers by suggesting keywords based on the content of their Web site, rather than on another keyword.

  • Audience Profiler provides advertisers with an expected profile of those customers who are most likely to search for specific keywords.

  • Cost Estimator helps advertisers remain within their budget by estimating rank, traffic and cost per month per keyword.

  • Campaign Optimization allows advertisers to respond quickly and decisively throughout the campaign to easily refine budget allocations and keywords, as well as apply targeting filters such as geographic, demographic and dayparting.

  • Post Sales Audience Intelligence & Reporting provides advertisers with detailed reports on campaign performance and audiences reached including click-through rate, estimated position and spending levels.

"We’re excited by the positive feedback we have received from advertisers thus far," Mehdi said. "The launch of adCenter in France and Singapore is a great first step to delivering on our global vision to connect advertisers to consumers in a much more meaningful way."

In the near future, adCenter will become a one-stop shop from which advertisers can manage all their MSN advertising campaigns, end to end, including display and direct ads. In addition, advertisers will be able to use advanced targeting tools and audience intelligence data to reach their desired audiences across the MSN network. Advertisers interested in learning more or signing up for adCenter can go to http://advertising.msn.com.

Our team got a demo of adCenter a few months ago and it definitely looks like it hits all the right points which is impressive for a version 1.0 offering. Given how much revenue MSN gets from advertising it's good to see us giving advertisers more tools to improve the value to get from advertising on MSN. Based on the fact that competitors like Yahoo! and Google already have offerings in this space, adCenter is an overdue addition to our stable of services.


Categories: MSN

September 23, 2005
@ 02:06 PM

From Omar Shahine's post mail.start.com we learn

Well, we launched Kahuna Milestone 3 (M3) yesterday with a new URL (http://mail.start.com). We are building Kahuna iteratively, and plan on releasing much goodness on a frequent basis. This is very different from the way that Hotmail and MSN has typically released software, but we feel it’s the best way to achieve success.

As I mentioned recently I've been using the Hotmail beta for a while now and it's a phenomenal improvement over the current version. Below is a screenshot of the beta in action.

Hotmail Beta screenshot

If you'd like invites to the beta, you should keep an eye on the Hotmail team's space. You can also find more screenshots of the Hotmail beta on their space as well.


Categories: MSN

There are two videos about MSN's AJAX efforts on Channel 9 today.

  1. Omar Shahine and team - New Hotmail "Kahuna": Hundreds of millions of people use Hotmail. Here's the first look at the next-generation of Hotmail, code-named "Kahuna."

    You meet the team which is located at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus, hear their design philosophy, and get a first look.

  2. Scott Isaacs - MSN DHTML Foundation unveiled: Scott Isaacs is one of the inventors of DHTML. He is one of Microsoft's smartest Web developers and built a framework that's being used on Start.com, the future Hotmail, and other places like the new gadgets in Windows Vista. Hope you enjoy meeting Scott, sorry for the bad lighting at the beginning. If you've done any AJAX development, you'll find this one interesting and you'll get a look at some bleeding-edge Web development that MSN is doing.

I've been using the Hotmail beta and it is definitely hot. My girlfriend saw me using it and when I told her that was the next version of Hotmail she told me to send hugs and kisses to the Hotmail team. Kudos to Omar, Aditya, Steve Kafka, Imran, Walter, Reeves and all the other folks at Hotmail who're making Kahuna happen.

Additionally it looks like I'll be working on Hotmail features in our next release. So maybe I'll get some of those hugs and kisses next time. ;)


Categories: MSN

A lot of the comments in the initial post on the Microsoft Gadgets blog are complaints that the Microsoft is copying ideas from Apple's dashboard. First of all, people should give credit where it is due and acknowledge that Konfabulator is the real pioneer when it comes to desktop widgets. More importantly, the core ideas in Microsoft Gadgets were pioneered by Microsoft not Apple or Konfabulator.

From the post A Brief History of Windows Sidebar by Sean Alexander

Microsoft "Sideshow*" Research Project (2000-2001)

While work started prior, in September 2001, a team of Microsoft researchers published a paper entitled, "Sideshow: Providing peripheral awareness of important information" including findings of their project. 
The research paper provides screenshots that bear a striking resemblance to the Windows Sidebar.  The paper is a good read for anyone thinking about Gadget development.  For folks who have visited Microsoft campuses, you may recall the posters in elevator hallways and Sidebar running on many employees desktops.  Technically one of the first teams to implement this concept

*Internal code-name, not directly related to the official, “Windows SideShow™” auxiliary display feature in Windows Vista.

Microsoft “Longhorn” Alpha Release (2003)

In 2003, Microsoft unveiled a new feature called, "Sidebar" at the Microsoft Professional Developer’s Conference.  This feature took the best concepts from Microsoft Research and applied them to a new platform code-named, "Avalon", now formally known as Windows Presentation Foundation...

 Microsoft Windows Vista PDC Release (2005)

While removed from public eye during the Longhorn plan change in 2004, a small team was formed to continue to incubate Windows Sidebar as a concept, dating back to its roots in 2000/2001 as a research exercise. Now Windows Sidebar will be a feature of Windows Vista.  Feedback from customers and hardware industry dynamics are being taken into account, particularly adding support for DHTML-based Gadgets to support a broader range of developer and designer, enhanced security infrastructure, and better support for Widescreen (16:10, 16:9) displays.  Additionally a new feature in Windows Sidebar is support for hosting of Web Gadgets which can be hosted on sites such as Start.com or run locally.  Gadgets that run on the Windows desktop will also be available for Windows XP customers – more details to be shared here in the future.

So the desktop version of "Microsoft Gadgets" is the shipping version of Microsoft Research's "Sideshow" project. Since the research paper was published a number of parties have shipped products inspired by that research including MSN Dashboard, Google Desktop and Desktop Sidebar but this doesn't change the fact that the Microsoft is the pioneer in this space.

From the post Gadgets and Start.com by Sanaz Ahari

Start.com was initially released on February 2005, on start.com/1 – since then we’ve been innovating regularly (start.com/2, start.com/3, start.com and start.com/pdc) working towards accomplishing our goals:

  • To bring the web’s content to users through:
    • Rich DHTML components (Gadgets)
    • RSS and behaviors associated with RSS
    • High customizability and personalization
  • To enable developers to extend their start experience by building their own Gadgets

Yesterday marked a humble yet significant milestone for us – we opened our "Atlas" framework enabling developers to extend their start.com experience. You can read more it here: http://start.com/developer. The key differentiators about our Gadgets are:

  • Most web applications were designed as closed systems rather than as a web platform. For example, most customizable "aggregator" web-sites consume feeds and provide a fair amount of layout customization. However, the systems were not extensible by developers. With start.com, the experience is now an integrated and extensible application platform.
  • We will be enriching the gadgets experience even further, enabling these gadgets to seamlessly work on Windows Sidebar

The Start.com stuff is really cool. Currently with traditional portal sites like MyMSN or MyYahoo, I can customize my data sources by subscribing to RSS feeds but not how they look. Instead all my RSS feeds always look like a list of headlines. These portal sites usually use different widgets for display richer data like stock quotes or weather reports but there is no way for me to subscribe to a stock quote or weather report feed and have it look the same as the one provided by the site. Start.com fundamentally changes this model by turning it on its head. I can create a custom RSS feed and specify how it should render in Start.com using JavaScript which basically makes it a Start.com gadget, no different from the default ones provided by the site.

From my perspective, we're shipping really innovative stuff but because of branding that has attempted to cash in on the "widgets" hype, we end up looking like followers and copycats.

Marketing sucks.


Categories: MSN

September 13, 2005
@ 11:32 PM
Start.com has always been an innovative service but today's announcements have kicked it up a notch. In his post Start.com: A Preview of Web 3.0, Scott Isaacs writes

Today's preview of the Start.com Developer illustrates fundamental shifts in web programming patterns:

  • DHTML-based Gadgets
    Start.com consumes DHTML-based components called Gadgets. These Gadgets can be created by any developer, hosted on any site, and consumed into the Start.com experience. The model is completely distributed. You can develop components derived from other components on the web.
  • Adding Behavior to RSS
    RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is an incredible platform for sharing content and information. Today all RSS feeds are treated equally by aggregators. Start.com integrates the world of RSS with Gadgets enabling any feed to optionally be associated with a rich, interactive experience. Some feeds present information that may be better presented in an alternative format. Other feeds leverage extensions or provide extra semantics beyond standard RSS (e.g., Open Search, Geo-based coordinates, etc). By enabling a feed to define a unique experience or consume an existing one, the richness of the aggregator experience can improve organically without requiring a new application. Of course, we also allow the user to control whether a custom experience is displayed for a feed.
  • Open-ended Application Model
    Start.com is what I call an open-ended application. An open-ended application consumes Gadgets and provides core application services and experiences. This is and has been the Start.com model since its inception (how do you think they released new features every week?). By opening up Start.com, we have removed the boundaries around Start.com features and experiences. The community of developers and publishers can now define and control the richness of the Start.com experience.

These are the web-applications of the future - applications that can integrate not only content (e.g., RSS) but associated behaviors and services. Today, via Start.com, the developer community can preview MSN's client technology and infrastructure. At Start.com/Developer, you will find early samples and documentation. This site will be continually improved with more documentation and samples. Go and build Gadgets and custom experiences for your feeds. Most importantly, since we are far from finished, please give us feedback. The platform can only improve with your feedback. Also, we are always looking for interesting Gadgets and custom RSS experiences.

I'm not sure I'm feelin' the "Web 3.0" monicker but the extensibility of the site is definitely cool beans. I remember a conversation I had with Steve Rider I had during the early days of the site where I asked if it would be possible to customize how different RSS feeds were displayed. At the time, I had noticed that there were three primary widget types for weather reports, stock quotes and headlines. I suggested that it would be cool if people could add annotations to the RSS feed to tell it how to display on the Start.com. Being an XML geek I was was thinking of extensions such as a start:display-style element which could have values like "columns", "headlines" or "rows".

Steve thought my idea was cool and chatted with Scott Isaacs about it. Since Scott is the DHTML guru of DHTML gurus, he kicked the idea up a notch and actually designed an infrastructure where sophisticated rendering behavior could be associated with an RSS feed using JavaScript. The rest is history.

Damn, I love working here.


Categories: MSN | Web Development

September 13, 2005
@ 05:26 PM

I am proud to announce that we have launched the MSN Developer Center on MSDN. This is culmination of some of the efforts I started driving shortly after writing the blog post MSN Developer Network? where I wrote

Yesterday, in a meeting to hash out some of the details of MSN Spaces API an interesting question came up. So far I've been focused on the technical details of the API (what methods should we have? what protocol should it use? etc) as well as the scheduling impact but completely overlooked a key aspect of building developer platform. I hadn't really started thinking about how we planned to support developers using our API. Will we have a website? A mailing list? Or a newsgroup? How will people file bugs? Do we expect them to navigate to http://spaces.msn.com and use the feedback form?

Besides supporting developers, we will need a site to spread awareness of the existence of the API.

After writing that post I started talking to various folks at MSN who were interested in providing APIs for their various services and realized that there was an opportunity for us to come up with a unified developer portal as opposed to a number of disjoint efforts. My argument was that instead of developers having to figure out they need to go to http://addins.msn.com/devguide.aspx to find out about extending MSN toolbar and http://www.viavirtualearth.com to find out about building MSN Virtual Earth mash-ups, we should just have http://msdn.microsoft.com/msn for all of MSN's Web 2.0 efforts. Everyone I talked to thought this made sense and now here we are.

Currently you can find information on extending or building applications with the APIs from Windows Desktop Search, MSN Toolbar, Start.com, MSN Virtual Earth, MSN Search, and MSN Messenger. In the near future I will be adding information about the APIs for interacting with MSN Spaces.

In addition to the developer center, we also have MSN Developer Forums where developers can discuss the various MSN APIs and interact with some of the people who work on the technologies.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Over the long term we have a bunch of stuff planned for the dev center including more APIs and more MSN properties joining the Web 2.0 party. This is going to be lots of fun.

PS: Shout outs go out to Jim Gordon, Chris Butler, Seth Demsey, Scott Swanson, Josh Ledgard and a host of others who helped make this a reality.


Categories: MSN

Since my previous post on the various MSN sessions at PDC, two new ones have finally had their details announced. They are

PRSL02 - Case Study: How Hotmail Used Atlas and ASP.NET to Build a Great User Experience
September 14, 12:30 PM - 1:15 PM
152/153 (Hall F)
Walter Hsueh

Microsoft's Hotmail web application team is developing the successor to Hotmail: a modern webmail experience focused on safety, simplicity, and speed. We will walk you through the scale and performance requirements of the Internet's largest distributed webmail application and show you how building on ASP.NET and Atlas technologies provides the right solution for the problem space. Learn from our experiences and design patterns of how we leveraged the "Atlas" programming model and "Atlas" components to build rich, interactive Web applications.

PRSL04 - MSN: Extending Start.com Using Startlets
September 15, 1:00 PM - 1:45 PM
408 AB
Scott Isaacs/ Sanaz Ahari
MSN's Web incubation team is creating a new AJAX-based personalized Web experience at start.com - here is your opportunity to get under the covers and see how we are building this site. Start.com allows for consumers to personalize their web experience to the things that matter the most to them. See how we build Start.com modules (Startlets) such as the Stock Picker, Weather Picker, and Blogger Map. Learn how to create your own custom Startlets for Start.com. We will also present how your RSS feed can also define a unique experience when viewed within Start.com. The Start.com team and architect will give you a tour of code you can use today. Join us for lunch and catch the latest wave of innovation from MSN's Web incubation team.

If you are a Web developer attending PDC that is interested in server side or client side AJAX development then you should attend both talks.

Categories: MSN

A couple more details of MSN's upcoming announcements of the various APIs we'll be opening up during PDC have come out. The write up with the best overview I've seen so far has been the article Microsoft Web plan takes aim at Google which states

Microsoft will detail its "Web platform" strategy at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week, company executives told CNET News.com
At the developers conference next week, Microsoft plans to publish the API to its MSN Search service, which can be used by developers through the Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP. The noncommercial license will let people produce 10,000 search results per day per Internet address, said Seth Demsey, group program manager for MSN Search. Microsoft will release an API for its desktop search as well.

Also next week, the company will announce a free commercial license to use a JavaScript "control" to display data from its Virtual Earth mapping service. The MSN Messenger group, meanwhile, will allow developers to write Windows applications that make use of the "Activity" window. This would allow a customer service representative, for example, to display customer information in a chat session.
Next Thursday, Microsoft executives will discuss a developer program for Start.com, an MSN incubator Web site that consolidates information from RSS feeds and other Web sites onto a single customizable page.

That's right, during the PDC we'll be announcing developer programs for four MSN properties; MSN Virtual Earth, MSN Messenger, Start.com and MSN Search. Unfortunately, MSN Spaces isn't on that list but this is mainly due to logistics reasons and not because we won't be opening it up to as a platform for developers.

Of course, there are more details from the horses mouth.

MSN Messenger
From Leah Pearlmann's post about the MSN Messenger Activity API we learn

The release of the API will be announced at the upcoming Microsoft PDC next week in LA. Along with this announcement will be another for a contest
Starting next week, you, yes you, can download the Activity API, build an Activity using the competition guidelines, and submit it. You Activity will be posted in the App Gallery where people around the globe can try it out and vote for it (which they will, because YOURS will be the best).

Activities will be judged based on creativity, usability, inclusion of MSN services/features and number of popular votes. Besides the most valuable reward – unlimited bragging rights— you can also win:

  • Alienware Area 51 laptop with armored case (grand prize)
  • Aurora Desktops (1st runner-up)
  • Oakley Thump sun glasses with built in MP3 player (2nd runner-up)

For more information, go to visit this forum or wait until September 12th and then go to http://www.worldsbestapp.com and http://msdn.microsoft.com/msn/messenger

I've been involved in the discussions on opening up different parts of our IM client and it's great to see some of these efforts begin to bear fruit. Once the contest is live, don't hesitate to post questions to the developer forum. I'll be watching as will several folks on the MSN Messenger team.

By the way, the MSN Messenger PM team is looking for someone with experience to drive their audio and video efforts. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then check out the job description and maybe even respond.

MSN Virtual Earth
The big news here was posted by Chandu Thota in his blog posting Virtual Earth APIs available for commercial use (and they are FREE!) where he wrote

Here is the good news folks: We are now offering the MSN Virtual Earth API for commercial applications free of charge to developers.  This APIs include the JavaScript map control and local search service (exposed via the What/Where search boxes on Virtual Earth site today). 

Here are some important notes about this release:

1. Maps are available in U.S. only and does not include any routing capabilities. In the future we will add European and Asian geographies. 
2. In order to use the API for commercial applications with no charge, your application must use the local search service on the map (the What/Where search boxes)
3. There is no SLA for Virtual Earth enabled applications until January 1, 2006.  Also, if you choose to use Virtual Earth in your production environment before the end of 2005, you must notify the MSN Virtual Earth team first in order to ensure capacity
4. MapPoint Web Service and Virtual Earth platform are not integrated (yet!)

 Now how does the future look like? On January 1, 2006, you will have two additional options to choose from to fit your commercial application needs:

1. You can use the Virtual Earth APIs for free as long as you use the What/Where search boxes on your map. This is also makes sense from a revenue stand point since you will have the opportunity to make money by placing advertisements on your site in a revenue sharing model (more details to be announced at a later date)
2. If you do not want to utilize the What/Where search boxes on your site or advertising, you can use the Virtual Earth API under your current MapPoint Web Service contract. In this scenario you will be charged for transactions through the Virtual Earth API. Note that this option comes with SLAs. 

There you have it - now you have what you are waiting for: the opportunity to integrate maps into your applications at free of cost (as long as you use the What/Where search boxes). I will be writing more about how to integrate maps and the What/Where search boxes into your web applications on this blog in my future posts. In the mean time, don't forget to check out ViaVirtualEarth to learn how to build applications using Virtual Earth Map control (and to win $1000!)

That's right, they have a developer contest going on as well. I'd hoped to have my article on building my Seattle Movie Finder page up by PDC to give folks a place to start when building their first mapping mash-up but I never got enough spare time at work. The article should be done by next week and should hopefully show up online the week after PDC.


Categories: MSN

It looks like I'm going to regret not going to PDC since we'll be unveiling some stuff I've been working with folks on over the past couple of months. Here's a hint, http://msdn.microsoft.com/msn. ;)

If you'll be at PDC, you definitely should check out some of the info first hand by attending some of our conference sessions. Such as

COM301  MSN Messenger: Extending MSN Messenger with Multi-Person Instant Messaging Applications

Day/Time: Wednesday, September 14 1:45 PM- 3:00 PM Room: 406 AB
Speaker(s): Scott Swanson
Session Type(s): Breakout
Session Level(s): 300
Track(s): Communications
This session covers the architecture and design of multi-person IM applications within MSN Messenger using the Messenger Activity API. We show how to use the peer-to-peer capabilities of the Activity API to build multi-user IM applications that can send files, instant messages, data, and integrate with other services. Build your IM applications to work with MSN Messenger, the world's largest instant messaging service with more than 165 million customers worldwide.

DAT322  MSN Search: Building Web and Desktop Search into Your Applications
Day/Time: Thursday, September 15 5:15 PM- 6:30 PM Room: 409 AB
Speaker(s): Seth Demsey, Chris McConnell
Session Type(s): Breakout
Session Level(s): 300
Track(s): Data & Systems
This session shows you how to harness the power of Web and Desktop Search within your applications. We provide an overview of the MSN Search APIs for both searching the Web and your desktop. We then demonstrate how to use these APIs to create applications that harness the power of searching your local data and Web data.

DATL03  Tips, Tricks & Hacks to MSN Search and Desktop Search Platforms
Day/Time: Friday, September 16 12:00 PM- 12:45 PM Room: 403 AB
Speaker(s): Andy Edmonds
Session Type(s): Lunch Session
Track(s): Data & Systems
This session will show you how to get the most of MSN Search and Windows Desktop Search. From advanced syntax to API usage and RSS, you will be equipped to get exactly what you want from these search tools. Learn about the ranking sliders which allow you to emphasize freshness or popularity in the results. We will also be distributing a hack which customizes MSN Search to the needs of a PDC attendee. For Windows Desktop Search you'll learn how to make yourself more productive with advanced query syntax, Deskbar shortcuts, additional locations and customized previews.

DATL05  Case Study: Extending Virtual Earth for Windows Mobile Devices
Day/Time: Thursday, September 15 1:00 PM- 1:45 PM Room: 404 AB
Speaker(s): Steve Lombardi
Session Type(s): Lunch Session
Track(s): Data & Systems
MSN Virtual Earth (www.virtualearth.com) is an evolution of local search technology that gives consumers a deeply immersive search experience where they can easily find, discover, plan, and share what is important to them. Microsoft is now harnessing its extensive search and mapping assets to create an entirely new local search experience for consumers and businesses. In this session, learn how you can programmatically tap into the power of Virtual Earth to location enable your device applications. Learn how the powerful managed code features of Windows Mobile 5.0 enable you to integrate your devices contacts and calendar with Virtual Earth's powerful search and mapping engines.

PNL09  APIs in the Sky: Developing Public Web Services
Day/Time: Friday, September 16 10:30 AM- 12:00 PM Room: 152/153 (Hall F)
Speaker(s): Don Box, Seth Demsey, Omri Gazitt, Alan Geller, David Nielsen, Doug Purdy
Session Type(s): Panel
Track(s): Communications
Want to know how Amazon, Paypal and MSN design, build, and maintain their Web services? Interested in learning best practices and key insights from the architects of Windows Communication Foundation ("Indigo")? If so, this is the panel for you. Join Don Box and other industry luminaries as they discuss the practical trade-offs involved when building Web services today and what you can expect to see in the near and long-term future.
I was supposed to be one of the speakers on the panel on developing public web services, however since I bowed out Seth will be bringing the MSN perspective to the panel. The combination of my workload and the fact that I'll be attending the Web 2.0 conference next month me decline. I'll definitely be doing some blogging about the announcements next week.


Categories: MSN

September 1, 2005
@ 05:37 PM

It looks like http://www.start.com is now an actual site as opposed to a 'coming soon' graphic. However the disclaimer at the bottom still states, this site is not an officially supported site. it is an incubation experiment and doesn't represent any particular strategy or policy.

Curioser and curioser.


Categories: MSN

I've known about this for a couple of days but was planning to wait until it was mentioned on the MSN Search blog. However since they've been scooped it looks like the cat is out of the bag. So here goes

Searching for Web (RSS, Atom) Feeds

Need to find an RSS or Atom feed? No problem.  Use the feed: operator to do so.  This searches for all documents that are RSS or atom feeds


Searching for documents that contain Web (RSS, Atom) Feeds

Need to find a document that contains an RSS or Atom feed?  Use the hasfeed: operator.


Folder Level Site Search

You can now use site search (site: operator) to restrict your search to a particular folder hierarchy in the URL up to two levels deep.  For example,

http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=site%3Awww.microsoft.com%2Fwindows&FORM=QBHP (searching the Windows site on MS.com)

http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=site%3Aspaces.msn.com%2Fmembers%2Fmike&FORM=QBRE (searching a blog on MSN Spaces)

Note:  There is a known issue around this feature. You cannot include a / after the second directory. This will be fixed in the near future. 

So it looks like MSN Search is the first of the big three search engines to provide RSS search and the improvements to the site: operator are also quite cool. They definitely get mad props from me for getting these features out there. 


Categories: MSN

From the Microsoft press release Microsoft Acquires Teleo, Innovative VoIP Technology Company we learn

REDMOND, Wash. — Aug. 30, 2005 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it has acquired Teleo Inc., a provider of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) software and services that enable the placement of phone calls from PCs to traditional phones and that deliver this technology in unique ways through a variety of software and Web applications. Microsoft expects to combine the technology and expertise of Teleo with the existing VoIP investments of MSN to further develop products and services that connect consumers to the people and information that most matter to them. Financial details were not disclosed.

Founded in 2003 and headquartered in San Francisco, Teleo is a privately held company whose initial planned service offering, also called Teleo, was designed to allow customers to use their PC to make phone calls to cell phones, regular phones or other PCs. Through its integration with Microsoft® Outlook® and Microsoft Internet Explorer, the Teleo service was designed to facilitate click-to-call dialing of any telephone number that appears on-screen, for example through a Web site or via search results or e-mail.

VoIP technology already is prominently featured in MSN® Messenger as well as other Microsoft products and services. Microsoft plans to incorporate and expand upon Teleo technologies, integrating them into the infrastructure that supports MSN and ultimately projects delivering new VoIP consumer applications in future releases of MSN services.

This is pretty good news for MSN Messenger users. Instant Messaging is more than just sending text from one computer to another. Voice and video conversations are also valid ways to communicate using our instant messaging client. Also the ability to communicate with people on other devices besides their computers is also one thing we think is important. In fact, while I was in Nigeria I made heavy use of MSN Messenger's SMS to IM conversation capabilities to send messages to my girl friend's phone while she was at work back here in Seattle.

It's all about communication and the addition of the Teleo folks to our fold will only increase and improve the communication capabilities of MSN Messenger. Excellent.


Categories: MSN

Lots of folks I've talked to at work have had mixed feelings about the recently announced Google Talk. The feelings are usually relief and disapointment in equal portions. Relief because Google hasn't shipped yet another application that redraws the lines of what that class of application should look like (e.g. GMail and Google Maps) meaning we have to play catch up. Disappointment because we actually expect better from Google.

You can see some of these sentiments from various folks at MSN such as Mike Torres in his post Competition & Google Talk, Sanaz Ahari in her posts Google Talk review and Google Talk pt II, and Richard Chung in his post Google Talk Blows.

Of course, Microsoft employees aren't the only ones underwhelmed by Google Talk. Doing a quick search of the blogosphere for comments about Google Talk leads me to lots of bloggers expressing ambivalence about the application.

The most interesting reaction I noticed was from Robert X. Cringely who was inspired to ask Has Google Peaked? in his most recent column. In the article he not only asks whether Google's best products are already behind it but also points out that they have become experts at Fire and Motion. Below is the relevant excerpt from Robert X. Cringely's column

Google plays on its technical reputation even though, if you look closely, it isn't always deserved. Many Google products haven't been revved since they were introduced. And while some Google products are excellent, some aren't, too.

Google likes to play the Black Box game. What are they DOING in all those buildings with all those PhDs? I'm sure they are doing a lot that will change the world, but just as much that will never even be seen by the world. For the moment, though, it doesn't matter because Google can play the spoiler. They offered a gigabyte of e-mail storage, for example, at a time when they had perhaps one percent the number of e-mail users as a Hotmail or Yahoo. And by limiting the Gmail beta, they avoided the suffering of both those other companies when they, too, had to increase their storage allocations, but for tens of millions of real users.

Now Google will do something similar for chat and VoIP with Gtalk, pushing the others toward an interoperability that undermines the hold each company thinks it has on its users.

In my original post about Google Talk I mentioned that using Jabber/XMPP was an attempt at a disruptive move by Google. Of course, it is only disruptive if its competitors like AOL, MSN and Yahoo! react by breaking down the walls of the walled gardens they have created in their various IM products.

I find it interesting that instead of trying to push the envelope with regards to the user experience in instant messaging, Google chose to 'punk' its competitors instead. I guess we'll just have to see how MSN, Yahoo & AOL end up reacting. 


Categories: MSN

August 25, 2005
@ 03:28 PM

David Card of Jupiter Research has a blog post entitled Pre-emptive IM Strike from MSN where he describes one of the reasons I love working at MSN

Finally, MSN wants to remind everyone that it's got six years of experience in this stuff -- hear that, Sergey? -- and is sticking to its promise of thrice-yearly upgrades, so watch for more goodies in November.

The upgrades are all fine, but I was actually more impressed by Irving's crisp articulation of the IM Big Picture. MSN is trying to move the conversation away from IM (defined as "real-time text messaging," how dull) to "contacts." I think they downplay presence management, but that's okay, presence sounds too much like AOL-friendly talk. As does Buddy Lists, but I can't break the habit.

What's critical about IM isn't real-time text messaging but the Buddy List as a communications/presence management hub.(Link is ancient history for geek/vision cred.) You manage your buddies and buddy groups and their relationships to you (and each other), shifting those according to what persona you're inhabiting (work, home, fun, shopping, etc.) and what communications are available to you or you want to make available to them. Then broadcast that selectively. The company that can teach consumers how to do this, and own that management tool is in a very powerful position. The portals will be duking it out with the mobile carriers for this, I suspect.

MSN's vision is pretty parallel to the one above. Irving claims Microsoft has an "ABCH" -- Address Book Clearing House -- that is a repository for all those contacts, relationships and permissions that come from Messenger and Hotmail. You can imagine how powerful that might be -- we're not just talking "gleams" and sharing playlists here -- and how much grief Microsoft will get for playing Big Brother.

Anyway, MSN gets it.

Besides the fact that I'm one of the program managers for ABCH and thus it's kind of cool to get a shout out from our VP, there are some other things about this excerpt that have me smiling. When I first came to MSN I thought I'd have to beat people over the head with the message that Social Software is the Platform of the Future but I didn't have to because everybody gets it. Everyone I've talked to from vice presidents and general managers to developers and testers working directly on individual features has their mind wrapped around our social software vision. It's really simple, the #1 goal of social software should be around improving the ways I communicate and interact with the people I know and a secondary goal is giving me avenues to communicate and interact with people I don't. It's really that simple.

We definitely have some interesting stuff coming down the road in the next couple of months. I can only hope our users have as much fun using our software as we had building it.

On an unrelated note, I have updated the track of the week from my high school days on my space. Just click on the play button on the Windows Media player module to hear this week's track. Listening to some of this stuff I can't help thinking, "I could have been a contender". :)


Categories: MSN

Omar Shahine has a post where he talks about FireAnt. FireAnt is communications part of the AJAX framework shared by Hotmail, Start.com, MyMSN and MSN Spaces which Steve Rider alluded to in his post Spaces, Hotmail and Start (oh my!).

Omar writes

Last summer we spent a lot of time at the white-board evaluating a number of ways to deliver a new architecture for Hotmail. We considered a number of things:

  1. Modification of the current C/C++ ISAPI architecture to support a hybrid ASP model.
  2. .NET rewrite for the DataLayer and BusinessLayer and XML/XSLT for the PresentationLayer
  3. Same as #2 but the Presentation layer would be JavaScript, XMLHTTP, and DHTML/CSS. This now has the fancy name, AJAX.

After much deliberating, we chose #3, and started running. For 4 weeks basically 1 PM, a developer and an intern built a prototype, and then the real thing (in case you are in college I’d note how cool it is that we put an intern on the most important technology we we're building). As more people started to move over to the FireAnt project, we got more and more excited about what was happening. You see, writing AJAX code can be a pain, and we didn’t want to spend our days and nights writing a lot of JavaScript and debugging client side Script. Instead we built an infrastructure that dynamically take server side objects (classes and methods) and automatically generates client side JavaScript stubs. The end result is that the client side object model looked exactly like the server side object model. Information was transported across the wire using XMLHTTP and the whole thing happened Asynchronously.

We extended .NET Attributes to mark classes and methods as FireAnt classes/methods and at build time the script is generated. If you think of SOAP support in the .NET Framework, it’s basically similar. As a developer you do not worry about generating SOAP messages, or building a SOAP parser. All you do is mark your method as [WebMethod] and your classes as [Serializable] and the .NET framework takes care of proxying, class generation etc. That’s what we were shooting for.

This was a big deal for us as it allows us to be incredibly productive. Since last summer, we have built a ton of features using FireAnt and the JavaScript Frameworks from Scott Isaacs. Late last fall we went up to Redmond and showed FireAnt to a number of folks in MSN, one of those folks was Steve Rider. It was really exciting to see the looks on folks faces when Walter (our FireAnt “architect”) setup his “Hello World” demo. You could just see that people realized that doing AJAX style development any other way was crazy.

We’ve since showed our stuff to a number of teams inside Microsoft. As a result of our work, Walter and Scott have spent a considerable amount of time with the Whidbey/ASP.NET folks and it’s pretty exciting to see ATLAS come together. If you want to learn more, Walter will be giving a talk at the PDC on what we’ve built. It’s great so see collaboration between our team and the Developer Division as the end result will be a better more scalable version of the .NET Framework for you.

Trying to build a complex AJAX website with traditional Visual Studio.NET development tools is quite painful which is why the various teams at MSN have collaborated and built a unified framework. As Omar points out, one of the good things that has come out of this is that the various MSN folks went to the Microsoft developer division and pointed out they are missing the boat key infrastructure needed for AJAX development. This feedback was one of the factors that resulted in the recently announced Atlas project.

A key point Omar touches on is that development became much easier when they built a framework for handling serialization and deserialization of objects to transmitted using XMLHTTP. The trick here is that the framework handles both serialization and deserialization on both the server (ASP.NET code) and the client (Javascript code). Of course, this is AJAX development 101 and anyone who's used AJAX frameworks like AJAX.NET is familiar with these techniques. One of the interesting things that falls out of using a framework like this is that the serialization format becomes less interesting, one could as easily use JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) as opposed to some flavor of XML.

If you're going to be at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) and are interested in professional AJAX development you should definitely make your way to the various presentations by the MSN folks. Also, we're always looking for developers so if building AJAX applications that will be utilized by millions of people on a daily basis sounds like your cup of tea give us your resume.


Categories: MSN | Web Development

August 16, 2005
@ 06:40 PM

Joe Wilcox, an analyst for Jupiter Research, recently posted his changed impressions on MSN Spaces in his blog post Making Room for My Space. He writes

I have started using MSN Spaces as the place where I keep my personal Weblog. Duing 2004 and part of 2005, I used TypePad's blogging service, and more recently moved one of my domains to a bloghoster. While a domain offers great search engine exposure, using the hosted blogging software requires some knowledge of HTML/CSS coding and other techniques; it's more work and trouble than I have time for. TypePad is a good alterative that's fairly easy to use, but it's by no means point and click.

To Microsoft's credit, MSN Spaces is remarkably easy to use, or so I am discovering as I give the service a hard second look. Sure, there were glitches at beta launch, but the service seems solid now. Some established blogger balked at the lack of control, meaning Microsoft tools took most of it, when the service launched as beta. But Microsoft never meant the service for them, but the masses of people that hadn't yet started blogging, and maybe folks like me too busy to become an amateur blogsite designer.

The simplicity and beauty of Microsoft's approach foreshadows possible future product changes competitors and partners shouldn't ignore...MSN Spaces takes that approach, of providing easy tools for doing the most common blogsite tasks. The user doesn't have as much control, but he or she can get the most common tasks quickly done. Over time, Microsoft has increased the amount of control and customization that power users would want, such as Friday's release of three MSN Spaces PowerToys, for layout control, custom (sandbox) modules and Windows Media content.
I would encourage Microsoft competitors and partners to closely watch MSN Spaces' progress. Apple blindsided Microsoft with iPod and the iTunes Music Store, a circumstance well understood by Microsoft product managers. Simplicity is one cornerstone of the products' success. Synching iPod to iTunes is no more complicated than connecting the device to the computer. There are settings to do more, but the baseline functionality that is suitable to most users is plug and synch. Microsoft has embarked on a similar, simpler approach with MSN Spaces.

It is interesting seeing how geeks adore complexity in the software and hardware that they use. I can still remember Robert Scoble's complaints about Spaces in his post MSN Spaces isn't the blogging service for me  or even CmdrTaco's comments when Apple released the iPod, "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame". Despite both products being dissed by A-list geeks they have become widely adopted by millions of people.  

More proof that designing for regular people is a lot different from designing for geeks.


Categories: MSN

I was recently re-reading Jesse James Garrett's article Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications and it struck me that the article was very much an introductory text on building web applications which skirted a number of real world issues. The core idea behind the article is that using DHTML and server callbacks results in web sites that are more responsive [from the end user's perspective] than traditional web applications. This is very true.

However if you are building a large scale web application there is more to consider when using AJAX than how to create a function that hides the differences between the XMLHttpRequest object in IE and Firefox. Problems that have to be solved [or at the very least considered] include

  1. How to abstract away browser detection from each page in the application
  2. How to make the site accessible or at least work on non-Javascript enabled browsers
  3. How to efficiently manage the number of connections to the server created by the client given the "chattiness" of AJAX applications compared to traditional web applications
  4. How to reduce the amount of time spent downloading large script files
  5. How to create permalinks to portions of the application
  6. How to preserve or at least simulate the behavior of the browser's 'Back' button

At MSN we've had to come up with solutions to a number of these problems while working on Start.com, MSN Spaces, the next version of Hotmail, and the next version of MyMSN. We have built our own AJAX framework and come up with a number of best practices for building large scale applications using AJAX. 

Much to my surprise Scott Isaacs (one of the inventors of DHTML and now an architect at MSN) has started a series on the problems that face web sites that plan to utilize AJAX and how we solved them at MSN. The first two articles in the series are Why Ajax is so 1999? Part 1 and Why Ajax is so 1999? Part 2. Scott will also be giving a talk at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) about Start.com and some of the cool AJAX stuff we've done.

I actually expected this would be the kind of information we'd keep close to our chest since they give us a competitive advantage so it is quite a welcome surprise to see us sharing knowledge with the Web developer community this way. I've already started nagging Scott to write a book about this stuff or at least update his Inside Dynamic HTML for the new millenium.


Categories: MSN | Web Development

August 15, 2005
@ 03:07 AM

The MSN Mobile team dropped two excellent betas last week. The first was http://mobile.spaces.msn.com/ which is mentioned in Mike Torres's post on the Mobile Spaces (Beta) where we learn

you can:

  1. Create a space from a mobile device.  Pocket PCs, Palms, and most popular mobile phones are supported.  Just browse over to http://mobile.spaces.msn.com from your mobile device (or go to http://spaces.msn.com and you will be redirected to the mobile version)
  2. See a list of your contacts' recently updated spaces.  This feature is really useful for a mobile device and great for catching up with people!  Just "click" on a contact to get to their space and start exploring.
  3. Add blog entries, view your archives, email a link to your space, and even change your settings - all from your itty bitty mobile device.
  4. Read and add new comments (my favorite feature!)  You are now able to stay on top of discussions from wherever you happen to be - in school, on a bus, in a meeting, or in line at Starbucks.

The second beta is http://mobile.msn.com/search/ which brings local search to your mobile device. This is mentioned in the blog post Get Local Search with Maps and Directions on your phone!  from the MSN Search blog where we learn

So what does it do? You can search for a restaurant, store, school, dentist, museum – basically, anything listed in the Yellow Pages and White Pages. Just enter your search term (i.e. "coffee" or "Victrola" ) and location (zip code, city/state or full street address) and hit the Search button. Your recently used locations are even stored and easily accessible the next time you use the service. We’ll return the first handful of results, including name, address, distance from your current location and phone number – which you can dial by clicking!  Select the result name and you’ll see a page with more detail, including a color map. Select "get directions" and we’ll provide turn-by-turn driving directions between your starting location and result address (both editable). All of these features have been specially designed to work on your phone, requiring minimal interaction and optimized for speed and ease of use.

The MSN Mobile crewis definitely shipping some good stuff. Props go out to Michael Smuga and the rest of the gang.


Categories: MSN

August 13, 2005
@ 05:11 AM

Robert Scoble has a blog post entitled Filtering Out MSN's Filter which seems like a good enough opportunity to state why I think of the newest addition to MSN's family of offerings. Robert wrote

MSN Filter sure is getting some people upset (hi Ross Mayfield).

Personally I wanted to give MSN Filter a few weeks before giving my opinion, but Ross goaded me into it.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

First, what is it? MSN hired five people to do a blog each. There's one on sports. Another on tech. Music. TV. Lifestyle.

I have to agree with Robert, I think the MSN Filter sites are pretty boring. More importantly as a MSFT shareholder and someone that works at MSN, I think it is a bad business investment in its current incarnation. Precedents for professional blogging such as Gawker Media (e.g. Gizmodo)  and Weblogs Inc. (e.g. Engadget) family of sites are supported by topic specific ads including some from Google's AdSense program. On the other hand, if you look at MSN's Technology Filter you don't see any such ads.

I think it is pretty cool that MSN is allowing folks experiment with ventures like MSN Filter. However my personal opinion is that in its current incarnation it's a lame knock off of the stuff coming out of folks like Nick Denton and Jason Calacanis and it doesn't have a chance of making much [if any] money for us since they are eschewing targetted ads.  

Lame. Lame. Lame.


Categories: MSN

Over the past couple of months the MSN Spaces team has gotten a bunch of feedback about features users would like to see in the service. Common requests include more flexibility in customizing the look of the space, ability to play videos or music in a module and the ability to add modules containing cutom HTML.

The team has been listening and all of those features were released yesterday as Powertoys. As Powertoys they aren't fully supported features and are only available in English. They are basically cool hacks by some of the developers on the Spaces team which are a prelude to what this functionality might look like in a future release of Spaces.

If you are an MSN Spaces user you should read Mike Torres's posts about how to enable the HTML Module, Windows Media Player module and the Tweak UI Powertoy. They totally jazz up your Space.

Great work from Ryan for being the man with plan on getting these out.



Categories: MSN

August 3, 2005
@ 02:13 AM

I recently stumbled upon a blog post entitled Why MSN is lost again... from Guillaume Belfiore which claimed that MSN is lost because we copy features from competitors without having a roadmap for where we want to go. He uses a specific example of the recent announcement that MSN Spaces will have a social networking feature as proof and claims that we are simply copying Yahoo! 360.

I was going to write a response but then realized that Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! had written a post about this topic which is a generic answer to posts like Guillaume's. In his post Secrets of Product Development and What Journalists Write Jeremy wrote

Before I came out to California to work at Yahoo, I watched the business and culture of Silicon Valley from a distance. I read lots of the trade rags, tech web sites, and books about early Internet companies (the Netscape era).

One of the things that amazed me about Internet companies (usually the portals) was how quickly they built things and were able to react to each others moves with frightening speed. Company X would do something amazing and new only to be leapfrogged by Company Y just a few weeks later.

They were putting on one hell of a show and it was all amplified by the crazy bubble of the late 90s. I loved it.

The tech and business press would say things like "in response to Company X, Company Y has just..." or "in an effort to defend their business from Company Y, Company X today launched a new..."

I saw headlines like that all the time and still see them today.

Today there's one important difference: I'm on the inside now. For the last five and a half years, I have had a front row seat to the inner workings of what I used to imagine (with the help of a small army of journalists and reports).

Now I see it first hand and hear about it from coworkers and friends at other companies. And you know what? It's even more insane than it looked from the outside.

So I'm going to let you in on a little secret about how products are developed at large companies--even large Internet companies that some people think are fast on their feet.

Larger companies rarely can respond that quickly to each other. It almost never happens. Sure, they may talk a good game, but it's just talk. Building things on the scale that Microsoft, Google, AOL, or Yahoo do is a complex process. It takes time.

Journalists like to paint this as a rapidly moving chess game in which we're all waiting for the next move so that we can quickly respond. But the truth is that most product development goes on in parallel. Usually there are people at several companies who all have the same idea, or at least very similar ones. The real race is to see who can build it faster and better than the others.

Think about this the next time a news story makes it sound like Yahoo is trying to one-up Google. Or MSN is "responding" to last week's launch of a new AOL service.

It's easy to get caught up in the drama of it all. But reality is often quite different than what you read.

Just because the media likes to paint it as if web companies respond to each other's development efforts in the twinkling of an eye as part of an eternal game of one upmanship doesn't mean this is the case. Although folks like to paint Web development as simply tweaking HTML pages, as Jeremy points out it takes a lot longer than one would expect to build and deploy services that will be utilized by millions of people.

The social networking aspects of Spaces have always been part of the vision and in fact when I was hired at MSN my boss told me that I'd be working on three things; a blogging platform, a social networking platform and an RSS platform. At the time, it wasn't clear my team would own the RSS piece so my [future] boss was worried that I'd be upset if I started on the team and the RSS piece moved elsewhere. Of course, since I already work on RSS Bandit in my free time I didn't mind if I didn't get to work on RSS as part of my day job. It turned out he was right and the RSS pieces ended up being driven by the http://www.start.com/myw3b and http://my.msn.com folks.

Don't believe the hype.


Categories: MSN

July 29, 2005
@ 03:06 PM

Mike Torres has a blog post entitled  On "MSN: Social Networking Edition" where he points to news stories about a core piece of a future version of MSN Spaces he and I have been working on for the past few months. Mike writes

On "MSN: Social Networking Edition"

Wow, is this actually true?  If so, I wonder how this will change the way people find and communicate with others in the future.

Quote (emphasis mine)

Microsoft Monitor: MSN: Social Networking Edition
A forthcoming "friend of friends" feature will add personal networks of friends to a MSN Space. In someone's My Space [sic], there will appear pictures of the friends, which can include friends of other friends. Friends can be added from people known or associated with friends or from MSN Spaces searches. Blake used the example of searching for golf blogs. If friends are on MSN Messenger, an icon indicates so.

More on Blake, Yusuf, MSN Messenger file sharing, and "Microsoft's new Web-based mail system" as well.  It is an interesting read... 

Funniest part of the post: "small consumer adoption [of Spaces]".  Joe is usually quick to take a shot at Microsoft without actually learning the facts first.  Come on, Joe...  I think the most recent public number was 17 million spaces created worldwide.  Compare that to any of our competitors in their first 3 years of existence.  Yeah...  small consumer adoption.  Maybe 17 million Roombas created those spaces :)

Mary Jo Foley has a little bit more here: 
Microsoft Watch.  My favorite part:

"Our ability to enter, differentiate and compete has never been stronger," Mehdi told the Wall Street analysts and media representatives who attended the analyst meeting.

Couldn't agree more

Although I've primarily been talking about my work on getting a public API for MSN Spaces off the ground, I also work on our social software platform on the back end as well. Once we ship the next version I'll be able to talk a bit more about some of the design decisions we made and I'll get to see how users end up utilizing the features we've been working in.

I love my day job.


Categories: MSN

It looks like MSN Virtual Earth is live. In an attempt to beat everyone to the punch when it comes to building an application using the MSN Virtual Earth API, I present http://www.25hoursaday.com/moviefinder

It requires Javascript (duh) and only works in IE beecause I didn't have time to figure out the Firefox equivalent of innerHTML. Enjoy.

Pardon my brevity, I'm posting this from a kiosk at Heathrow Airport


Categories: MSN | Web Development

A couple of MSN betas snuck out into the world this week.

In his post MSN Shopping Officially Launches New Beta Site, Chris Jolley talks about the new http://beta.shopping.msn.com. Some of the new features include

  • RSS Feeds – it remains to be seen how aggressively consumers take to this, but I think it's super-cool how we are embracing an emerging technology.    
  • Ratings & Reviews - allows consumers to see what other consumers think of a product, providing them with increased confidence in their purchase decisions
  • Ability to browse our complete selection through an easy-to-understand taxonomy and powerful search
  • Refine searches with expanded, relevant criteria
    •  By price, rating, popularity, name, best match
    • Multiple Views - Results can be viewed in three different views
  • Usability enhancements:
    • Recently viewed– helpful little personalization feature that helps continuity between sessions
    • Compare prices across stores, find out who has free shipping, hot deals, etc.
    • Clean and consistent UI – The UI is clean and simple and designed to NOT get in the user's way
  • Useful Merchandising – Comprehensive set of merchandising, including the Gift Center , Seasonal Shops & Guides , and more

I met with the PM who owns the RSS feeds feature a few months ago to talk about my scenarios and its great to see that it's finally out there. I use the Amazon RSS feeds all the time and can definitely see myself getting some use out of the news feeds from MSN Shopping. All I can say about the ratings & reviews feature is...FINALLY. I've already begun to scheme about how I can convince Mike that we should totally gank learn from the feature in Yahoo 360° where you can include your reviews on your "space".

The MSN Screensaver beta is also out. Some of the features include

  • Personalize with background photos and news and weather information from MSN or any RSS feeds from websites you choose.
  • Search the Web and click news headlines directly from the Screen Saver.
  • Stay connected with Hotmail, MSN Messenger, and MSN Spaces. Track how many unread Hotmail messages and current Messenger conversations you have, and display blogs and photos from your friends’ MSN Spaces.
  • Some of the features of the screen saver are so useful I'm wondering why they are wasted on an app that typically runs when the user is away from the computer.

    And finally, http://www.start.com/myw3b has some new features. Sanaz Ahari has a blog post entitled new things on start.com... where she writes

    first and foremost, check out our new search results:
    - we now have tabbed results that include web, news and rss , so you don't need to do seperate types of search we just give you all the results and it's all ajax based of course
    - the rss resutls are very cool, cause you can just subcribe by clicking on subscribe and they'll get added to your feed
    we've also added themes : ice, granite and ocean... ice is my favorite :)
    super easy to navigate, needless to say all in place and no refreshes required.
    we got rid of our not so useful home link and folder view - so now when you click on a folder we don't replace your dashboard with the content of that folder... yes, we listen to our user feedback :)
    lastly you can now hit the esc button to close your overlay modules - super usable...

    There's a followup post on the start.com weblog entitled more on start: OPML support and popular feeds which states that they added support for importing OPML files as well.  

    Postscript: Anyone notice what all three of these betas have in common? (Hint: Starts with R ends with S and has an S in the middle).


    Categories: MSN

    Jeff Schneider has a post entitled Hey, Don Box where he asks

    All of us in the SOA blogosphere have appreciated your input and insight. However it has come to my attention that Microsoft isn't practicing what they're preaching. I'm hoping that you can tell me that my information is dead wrong.

    I ask one simple favor. Start blogging about how Microsoft is using SOA internally.

    Don works on a platforms team so he is the wrong person to ask about first hand experience at actually deploying XML web services or service oriented applications at Microsoft. As for whether Microsoft uses services internally, this is all we do at MSN. I'm responsible for underlying platform services that are used by MSN Messenger, Hotmail, and MSN Spaces. The fact that you can lock down your space to distinct people in your Hotmail address book or the people who are on your Messenger Allow List (i.e. who you've given access to see your presence online) are all due to our service oriented architecture on our back ends. This would be a lot more difficult if each of these applications was a monolithic app on our back end.

    I'm also responsible for another set of services which are used MSN Member Directory, MSN Groups, and even Windows MarketPlace which I found out recently are going to be used by a lot more MSN properties without them ever having to ping me. When services work the way they are supposed to that's what happens.

    To answer Jeff's question, at least with MSN, Microsoft is definitely practicing what it preaches when it comes to service orientation.


    Categories: MSN | XML Web Services

    It looks like Karen will be attending the BlogHer conference. From her post it seems she'll be part of a session with the following abstract

    Women around the world are leveraging blogs to get their message across - whether it be to share their experiences, promoting their business or voicing their opinions. But changing the blogosphere doesn't just happen from blogging about it - change can also happen from the source - those who are building the tools and software. Technology isn't as male-oriented as you might think.

    Did you know that many of the big-name blogging tools have women helping to design and build them? Ever wonder how decisions get made or why things are designed or work the way they do? We invite women interested in helping to shape blogging tools and those currently building blogging tools to participate in this forum. You don't have to be a techie - share your thoughts and gripes on blogging tools today.Tell us what you what to see happen.

    To many people the most familiar female face when it comes to blogging tools is Mena Trott. However there are a bunch of women working on building popular blogging platforms such as MSN Spaces who have been quite influential as well. For example, when I joined MSN the Spaces team had women in key positions; Karen owned the blogging experience, Divya owned photos and Lydia owned profiles. Since then some folks have come and gone and although Divya & Lydia are no longer with us we've added Maya who works on cool top secret stuff and DeEtte who now owns the photo experience.

    Although A-list and tech blogs tend to be filled with testosterone totting geeks pontificating about pointless geekery this doesn't mean that there haven't been women involved bringing one of the biggest revolutions in personal publishing to the world. 

    Hopefully, the BlogHer conference will be a useful way for some of these women to network and find a way to increase the visibility of their efforts. If that is what they want.


    Categories: MSN

    Andy Edmonds has a post over on the MSN Search blog entitled Tagging Feedback at MSN Search where he talks about the internal app he built that is used to track feature requests and bug reports about MSN Search.

    When the MSN Search team gets feedback or bug reports, each one is "tagged" with multiple keywords/categories which can then be analyzed later by frequency. The example, Andy shows in his post is the tag "ypResults" which is used to categorize featue requests for yellow page hits as part of web search results. With this system the search team can have a simple yet effective way to keep track of their most hot button issues

    Andy showed this to me a few months ago and I thought it was really cool. I'd have loved to have a system like this when I used to work on the XML team to figure out what features/bugs were most often requested by users in a quantitative way.

    Below is a screenshot of the feature (names changed to protect the innocent)


    Categories: MSN

    From  Omar's post in Sender ID I see that Forbes has an article entitled Microsoft, Yahoo! Fight Spam--Sort Of. The article gives a pretty even handed description of the various approaches both Yahoo! and MSN are taking in dealing with phishing and spam.

    In the article we learn

    While some e-mail services have adopted SenderID, there are still many that have not. According to Cox, the other reason for the false positives is that not all users remain on a single server. “SPF says, ‘All of my mail should come from these servers,’” says Cox. For many of EarthLink’s customers, they can be legitimately on a variety of servers, such as a corporate server, and still send and receive mail using their EarthLink address. For those users, SPF fails.

    EarthLink started testing DomainKeys in the first quarter of 2005 and now signs over 70% of all outgoing mail. Other companies are also testing DomainKeys. Yahoo! Mail claims to be receiving approximately 350 million inbound DomainKeys signed messages per day.

    Critics have accused Microsoft forcing SenderID on the industry without addressing questions about perceived shortcomings. The company drew fresh criticism recently when reports claimed that its Hotmail service would delete all messages without a valid SenderID record beginning in November. While AOL uses SPF, many e-mail systemsdo not. If Microsoft went through with this, for example, a significant portion of valid e-mails would never reach intended Hotmail recipients.

    Microsoft says that Hotmail will not junk legitimate e-mail solely because the sending domain lacks an SPF record. The company says SenderID will be weighed more heavily in filtering e-mails, but will remain one of the many factors used when evaluating incoming e-mail. The company did say that with increased adoption of Sender ID and SPF, it will eventually become a more reliable indicator.

    Both SenderID and DomainKeys filter messages with spoofed e-mail addresses in which the sender has changed the "From:"field to make it look like someone else has sent the e-mail. For example, many phishing scams come from individuals posing as banks. Under the SenderID framework, if the bank has published an SPF record, the receiving server can compare the originating server against the SPF record. If they don’t match, the receiving server flags it as spam. DomainKeys perform a similar comparison but use an encrypted key in each message and the public key unique to each domain to check where the message originated.

    The amount of phony email I get per week claiming to be from Paypal & eBay and requesting that I 'confirm my account info or my account will be cancelled' is getting ridiculous. I welcome any technology that can be used to fight this flood of crap.


    Categories: MSN

    July 13, 2005
    @ 01:36 PM

    I stumbled on Bus Monster last week and even though I don't take the bus I thought it was a pretty cool application. There's a mapping application that I've been wanting for a few years and I instantly realized that given the Google Maps API I could just write it myself.

    Before starting I shot a mail off to Chandu and Steve on the MSN Virtual Earth team and asked if their API would be able to support building the application I wanted. They were like "Hell Yeah" and instead of working on my review I started hacking on Virtual Earth. In an afternoon hacking session, I discovered that I could build the app I wanted and learned new words like geocoding.

    My hack should be running internally on my web server at Microsoft before the end of the week. Whenever Virtual Earth goes live I'll move the app to my personal web site. I definitely learned something new with this application and will consider Hacking MSN Virtual Earth as a possible topic for a future Extreme XML column on MSDN. Would anyone be interested in that?


    Categories: MSN | Web Development | XML

    A few months ago I wrote a blog post entitled What Blog Posting APIs are supported by MSN Spaces? which explained the various options we saw in providing an API that would allow desktop tools and web applications interact with MSN Spaces programmatically. Since I wrote that post I've had a number of people inquire about when we'd provide an API and what form the API will take.

    Our current plan is to provide an implementation of the MetaWeblog API with some methods from the Blogger API while using HTTPS/SSL for security. These APIs are widely supported by various weblog applications and already have a vibrant developer ecosystem around them. The API will enable people to create, edit and delete posts on the blog in their space. One of our goals is to ensure that bloggers who are already using blog posting tools such Blogjet or w.bloggar can use them to interact with MSN Spaces when we launch the API without having to upgrade or switch clients. Similarly web sites which allow users to post to their blogs such as Flickr and Zoto should be able to support our API without making significant changes.

    The launch date of the API is yet to be determined but will be in the near future. In the meantime, we'd like to get developers of blog posting tools and web applications that would like to integrate with MSN Spaces into a beta program to test our implementation of these APIs. If you are a developer of a blog posting tool or web application that wants to use our API and don't mind signing an NDA then you should send me mail at dareoATmicrosoftDOTcom to get into our beta program.  

    If you are interested in us providing other APIs, such as allowing programmatic access to the photo albums or the various lists on a space, I'd also like to hear from you. Please send me mail about your scenario and what platform/device your application will be running on.


    Categories: MSN

    My friend Kitty has been working on a bunch of cool projects at work over the past year. She was instrumental in the recently announced PC-to-Mobile Instant Messaging Between MSN Messenger and Vodafone Messenger. Her most recent project as part of our team has been in working with other folks at MSN to get http://rockstar.msn.com/ launched.

    The details are in the recent press release MSN Launches Official Web Site for Mark Burnett Productions’ “Rock Star: INXS,” Giving Viewers New Ways to Engage With Reality Show which is excerpted below

    MSN is giving fans new ways to take part in the reality-show craze by launching http://rockstar.msn.com , the official Web site for Mark Burnett Productions’ "Rock Star: INXS." The show, which aims to find a new lead singer for the multiplatinum rock band INXS, premieres July 11 on the CBS Television Network in the U.S... Rockstar.msn.com extends and enhances “Rock Star: INXS” by giving fans unique opportunities to connect with the contestants and with one another
    Beginning July 11, viewers can do the following:

    • Vote for their favorite contestants through http://rockstar.msn.com and MSN® Messenger, which allows people to vote while chatting with friends about the show in real time. Wireless voting also will be available.

    • Watch exclusive "Rock Star: INXS" video not seen on TV, available only through MSN Video.

    • Watch streaming video of contestant performances on MSN Video to relive the highlights and the lowlights before casting a vote.

    • Purchase the contestant performances on MSN Music. Not only can fans download and own their favorite musical moments from the show, downloads of the original artists’ versions of contestant performance songs also will be available for purchase on MSN Music.

    • Read contestant blogs on MSN Spaces that tell fans about everything from their backgrounds to what it's really like onstage, offstage and backstage.

    • Chat with other "Rock Star: INXS" fans through MSN Messenger and download special "Rock Star: INXS" emoticons, dynamic display pictures, backgrounds and winks to spice up their instant messaging (IM) conversations.

    • Play rock-and-roll trivia games created by Cranium Inc. for MSN Encarta®.

    • Sign up for MSN Alerts and a weekly newsletter that give fans the scoop on everything related to "Rock Star: INXS."

    • View weekly "Rock Star" photo galleries and rock-and-roll fashion features.

    • Buy merchandise featured on "Rock Star: INXS" through MSN Shopping.

    • Get weekly fashion tips from the "Rock Star: INXS" official show stylist.

    I've been watching a lot more reality TV than I care to admit so it is fun to see that lots of us at MSN are also into this guilty pleasure. Now if only we'd come up with an MSN spin on Being Bobby Brown then my reality TV fix would be complete.


    Categories: MSN

    Last week was the O'Reilly Where 2.0 Conference where a number of players in the online mapping space including Yahoo!, Google and MSN announced API plans for their various services.

    The Yahoo! Maps Web Services provides a way display a map on the Yahoo! website populated with locations specified by the caller. To specify the locations on the map, one uses an RSS feed where each item in the feed corresponds to a location on the map and its geographical address is specified using a combination of geoRSS extensions and proprietary Yahoo! extensions. Instead of allowing one to POST the RSS feed to the service, the Yahoo! Maps API requires that a URL to the RSS feed is provided instead. This prevents the API from being used by desktop applications easily or by users who don't have access to a web server where they can place XML files online. Clicking on the following URL should show the API in action; http://api.maps.yahoo.com/Maps/V1/AnnotatedMaps?appid=YahooDemo&xmlsrc=http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/sample.xml 

    The Google Maps API allows one to embed Google Maps on specific web pages. To include a map on one's web page, a Javascript file which exposes a complete object model for Google Maps should be included on the target webpage. The Javascript include is of the form

    <script src="http://maps.google.com/maps?file=api&v=1&key=abcdefg" type="text/javascript"></script>

    file=api indicates that the file being returned is the Google API file, v=1 indicates that version 1 of the API is being requested and key=abcdefg is used to specify the developer key being used to access the service.

    Once the script is included, developers can write code such as

    var map = new GMap(document.getElementById("map"));
    map.addControl(new GSmallMapControl());
    map.addControl(new GMapTypeControl());
    map.centerAndZoom(new GPoint(-122.141944, 37.441944), 4);

    which results in an effect similar to those at controls.html being created on the Web page.

    It's interesting to see how radically different the approaches taken by Yahoo! and Google to  provide what is basically the same functionality. The Yahoo! approach seems to me to be more declarative and straightforward than Google's approach. However, Google's approach is definitely a lot more flexible.

    As for MSN, we announced that Virtual Earth will provide an API that will be free for non-commercial use that utilizes both URLs and a JScript Map control. Some of the highlights of the conference presentation are in Chandu Thota's post Where 2.0 and Virtual Earth.


    Categories: MSN | XML Web Services

    The MSN Search team recently silently released http://addins.msn.com which among other things provides the API documentation for Windows Desktop Search that ships with the MSN Search Toolbar. The lowdown on what the API is good for is right at the beginning and is excerpted below

    Which Extension Technology to Use?

    There are two basic methods for creating add-ins for Desktop Search.

    1.     Adding new file types by creating IFilters

    • Extend Desktop Search with an IFilter add-in that knows how to “crack” the contents of a new file type in order to index its text and metadata.
    • To do this, you need to build and register an object supporting the IFilter interface.
    • You can add file-specific icons or context-menu handlers by following this documentation on extending the Windows Explorer file types by creating IContextMenu and IExtractIcon interfaces.
    2.     Adding a new store by creating protocol handlers

    • Extend Desktop Search so that it can index a new data store, such as the database of an e-mail application.
    • To do this, you need to build a protocol handler object supporting the ISearchProtocol interface, along with an IUrlAccessor to pull the items. If the contents of the data store are file types not already indexed by Desktop Search, you may also need to implement one or more IFilters..
    • To add icons or context-menu handlers, you need to implement portions of an IShellFolder.

    You can also find custom IFilters at http://addins.msn.com including ones for PDF, ZIP, CHM and Mozilla Thunderbird mail formats. If only there were C# wrappers for all the gnarly COM interfaces I'd provide one for indexing and searching the cache file format used by RSS Bandit. Then people would be able to search their feeds directly from desktop search. That would be kinda hot. 


    Categories: MSN

    I've been doing a lot of thinking and writing (at work) about Web platforms and Web APIs recently. Just yesterday I was talking to some folks about Web APIs and an interesting question came up about the Google Web APIs. Basically we couldn't come up with good reasons for Google to have exposed them or for people to use them in their current form. I left the conversation wondering whether I just wasn't smart enough to see the brilliance of their strategy. Thanks to a post by Alex Bosworth's entitled Search Engine APIS it seems I may not be so dumb after all. He wrote

    Recently, the Search engines have been trying to get into the mix, with new pushes to gain developer followers. Google recently launched a new subdomain emphasizing their committment to not being a technology black hole. Less recently, Yahoo launched their own developer site, in an attempt to build 3rd party value around their product.

    However so far these 3rd party applications haven't found widespread appeal and had breakout success. This is in large part because of crippling artificial restrictions placed on Google/Yahoo/etc APIs.

    It's not to say that applications made on platforms haven't been fairly cool ie: Yahoo News In Pictures, or clustering Yahoo search results.

    But these will never progress beyond cool toys, and I'm not sure that Yahoo/Google/etc realize that. Talking to Google engineers, I was informed that Google thinks of their 3rd party API program as a complete failure and only a couple people have made anything vaguely useful from it. The reason why is they have no real committment to making these programs work. For example their terms and conditions are so draconian and laden with legalese there is no motive for developers to work with them.

    This confirms some of the suspicions I had about their search engine API. Of course, this isn't to say I think providing programmatic access to search engine results is a bad idea. I just think Google's approach is very weird.

    For example, I like the fact that I can get the results of a query on recent news items for terms such as "G-Unit Game beef" as an RSS feed from MSN Search.  Or that I can subscribe to the results of searching for my name on Feedster in my favorite RSS reader. As an end user I get a lot of use out of them and as a developer they are a cinch to work with.

    There's a difference between cool apps and useful apps. The people at Google sometimes don't get the difference but the guys at Yahoo! definitely do. All you have to do is compare Yahoo! Maps to Google Maps to figure this out. Similarly I think the APIs provided by Google don't really enable people to actually build useful apps just cool little toys. MSN Search and Yahoo! seem to be on a better track because they enable more useful scenarios with their breadth of services exposed as APIs* as well as the fact that they provide these results as RSS.

    What I've actually found surprising is that neither service puts sponsored search results in the results returned. I assume this is because we are still in the early days of search syndication but once it catches on and regular people are subscribing to search results so they can do things like build their own newspaper/dashboard then I'm sure we'll see the ads creep in.

    * RSS is an API. Deal with it.


    Categories: MSN | XML Web Services

    From the press release MSN Continues Investments in Search With the Launch of Local Search we learn

    Starting today, consumers in the United States will see a new Local category added to the MSN Search options on MSN.com. When consumers search for local information, they will receive results from city- and region-specific White Pages and Yellow Pages directory information. For example, a local search on “auto mechanics” could bring up listings of nearby mechanics, repair shops and towing companies.

    Each local search result is shown as a numbered pin on a corresponding map provided through Microsoft® MapPoint® Web Service, and digital aerial images are supplied by TerraServer-USA when available for a given search result. The TerraServer-USA Web site is one of the world’s largest online databases, providing access to a vast data store of maps and aerial photographs of the United States. Originating at the Microsoft Bay Area Research Center, TerraServer is operated by Microsoft as a research project for developing advanced database technology.

    The new MSN Local Search functionality is an evolution of the Near Me search feature that debuted on MSN Search in February of this year and allowed consumers to receive search results tailored to a geographic location. Those interested in trying the beta of the new offering should visit http://www.msn.com.

    Kudos to the MapPoint/VirtualEarth and MSN Search folks for getting this out the door. My first test was trying a search for "pizza" in my area.  I decided to figure out how to specify my location with more accuracy. Come to think of it I'm not sure how it even figured out to look in Seattle. Anyway I followed the link from the phrase How do I change my location? and saw that I can specify my city, state and zip code in the settings page which is stored in a cookie.

    There are two minuses here. The first is that I can't store my exact address. When I'm looking for a pizza place I want to find one that delivers in my area not just one in the same city as me. The second is that I can only store one location which is one better than Google Maps but quite poor when compared to Yahoo! Maps. It looks like I'll be sticking with Yahoo! for now. I will send the MSN Search folks some feedback about needing to add these features.

    By the way, a more direct link to the service is http://search.msn.com/local.


    Categories: MSN

    In today's issue of the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg reviews a number of blog hosting services in the article Taking the Mystery Out of Blog Creation. The article describes the experiences of Walt and his assistant Katie in building their test blogs including  http://spaces.msn.com/members/wmossberg and http://kaboehret.blogspot.com/. He writes

    This past week, my assistant Katie Boehret and I tested three of these free blog-creation services to see what they offer. We tried the popular Google-owned service, Blogger.com, as well as Microsoft's new MSN Spaces service, each of which is estimated to host millions of blogs. We also tested Yahoo's Yahoo 360 service, which still is in its test phase. We quickly learned how simple it is to set up a blog, and how addictive they can become.

    While using these three sites, we paid careful attention to how each blog-creating service handled four basic tasks: publishing text entries, or "posting" as it is called in blog land; adding photos; publishing links to other Web pages on our blogs; and providing privacy (if desired) online. We also took note of the overall style and formatting options provided on each site.

    Our verdict: Microsoft's MSN Spaces did the best job of performing these tasks in a way that was organized and self-explanatory. Yahoo 360 was almost as easy, but it tries to tie in the use of too many other Yahoo services. Blogger.com has a long way to go until it becomes as easy to use as the others.

    It's great to see the validation by both our users and reviewers like Walt Mossberg of the design choices we've made in attempting to bring blogging to a more widespread audience.

    I'd like to thank all the folks who've been giving us great feedback; reviewers like Walt, various folks who leave comments in my space or Mike's or Scott's, the people who've added stuff to the MSN Spaces wiki, and the good people at work who send mail to the various Spaces mailing lists. You're feedback makes us better. Thanks.


    Categories: MSN

    A few months ago, Omar Shahine wrote about how various folks in our org came together to get the MSN Mobile Messaging feature to work. This feature allows people to have IM conversations with people using a cell phone via SMS using MSN Messenger. In his post When the work you do is architectural (MSN Mobile Messaging) he talks about the feature and how it was implemented on our various back ends. Some of his post is excerpted below  

    So what to do? Enter MSN Messenger to SMS communications (we call this Enhanced mobile messaging). The feature we've been working on for the past year (or longer) was to allow a user of MSN Messenger on a PC to send a message to some one that is not signed into MSN Messenger but has an SMS enabled Mobile device AND to reply to that SMS message and have a real time chat (in otherwords, a two way conversation between MSN Messenger and Mobile phone using SMS as the wire protocol). This last part is important, but to understand it I need to explain one more thing.

    For the past few years part of the scenario above has been available through what I will call a hack. Most phones that have SMS also have an email gateway that can take a message sent to a special email address and forward that message to the phone. For example, an email sent to <phone number>@mmode.com will forward that message via SMS to the <phone number> of an ATT Wireless subscriber. However, the user cannot reply to that email enabling a 2 way chat. Furthermore, it breaks the SMS user experience that mobile phone users are used to.

    So, to fix this we set out to build all the necessary carrier infrastructure, SMS infrastructure, and build the technology and carrier relationships to ship the ability for users to have a two way conversation from MSN Messenger to a Mobile device that has nothing more than SMS capabilities (practically every singe phone on the planet). Not only that, but we support "Offline messages" so that if a Mobile phone device replies to an SMS from Messenger, and you have signed out of MSN Messenger, the next time you sign in the message will be delivered to you allowing you to continue the conversation.

    I was reminded of this today because of his follow up post MSN Mobile Messaging for Cingular, which let me know that my girlfriend's cell phone carrier is now supported. Sweet.

    Omar's original post has some interesting details on some of the issues they faced in bringing this feature to the market. This is an awesome feature and I'm definitely going to get a lot of use out of it.


    Categories: MSN

    June 14, 2005
    @ 05:14 AM

    There's been a bunch of hubbub on certain blogs about MSN Spaces and some of the content filtering that happens on the site due to a recent Financial Times article entitled Microsoft bans 'democracy' for China web users. I've seen a lot of rhetoric about this topic and have avoided commenting on it since it is a sensitive topic that has evoked rather emotional and inflammatory responses from commenters including some Microsoft employees.

    I will say two things though. First of all, the behavior of MSN Spaces isn't something that is tied to any recent ventures in the past month or two by MSN in China as the article purports. In December of last year Boing Boing ran a post entitled Chinese editions of MSN Spaces censor political terms which covers the behavior described in the Financial Times article.

    The second is that the response to the initial feedback on the "censorship" on MSN Spaces made by Michael Connolly in his post Comments on Content Moderation is still valid. Specifically he wrote

    There have been a lot of observations since we launched on how we moderate content on Spaces.   Just so there aren’t any misconceptions floating around, here is exactly what we do, and why.

    One of our main goals for Spaces was to create a platform for people to share their thoughts and feelings with their friends and the outside world.  However, we wanted to make Spaces usable by not only the people who are blogging today, but also be approachable by the general internet user, who might not have heard of blogging previously, or been given an opportunity to try it out.

    Unfortunately, whenever you create an open platform for people to say whatever they want, and open it up to the wide world (14 languages, in 26 different markets), there is always a handful of people who spoil the party, and post a bunch of inappropriate (and in some cases illegal) stuff. And to make matters worse, what exactly is deemed “appropriate” or not is very subjective, not only from person to person, but from country to country
    We block a set of specific words from being used in 3 areas: the url you select, the title of your Space, and the title of your blog entry. These three fields are reused and displayed in a variety of areas, like search results, so we thought it would be a little thing we could do to cut down on the obvious cases that would most easily offend.

    MC made his post in December of last year and this is still the state of affairs today. I don't know if any official statement will be made in response to the article but I did think it would add some perspective to the various discussions to actually get the facts and as opposed to hearsay.

    Quite frankly I've been saddened see the kind of language and rhetoric used in posts like Tim Bray's Microsoft and China to describe the above situation. We have lots of Chinese users who use MSN Spaces to share their lives with friends, family and the rest of the online world. Read their blogs, view their photos and try to see things from their eyes instead of letting the rhetoric blind you to reality.


    Categories: MSN

    Shelley Powers has a few posts that are critical of Microsoft's InfoCard project entitled You Want We Should What? and What do you want from Digital Identity. I'm not really up to speed on all the digital identity and InfoCard discussion you can find in places like Kim Cameron's blog mainly because it bores me to tears. However one thing that struck me when reading Shelley's posts and then reading a few entries from Kim's blog is that it seemed they both were expecting different people to use the InfoCard technology.

    I've found it hard to tell whether the identity folks at Microsoft expect InfoCard to mainly be used by Enterprises who need to identify people who communicate across identity domains (e.g. the way Office Communicator is used to communicate with people within an enterprise or folks using Yahoo!, MSN or AOL instant messaging tools) or whether they expect it to be used as some sort of federated single sign on system for various websites. Reading the Microsoft's Vision for an Identity Metasystem whitepaper it seems InfoCard and the "Identity Metasystem" are meant to do this and much more. My spider sense tends to tingle when I see v1 technologies that aim to solve such diverse problems in a broad sweep.

    The end of the whitepaper states Passport and MSN plan to implement support for the identity metasystem as an online identity provider for MSN and its partners. Interesting, I may have to start digging into this space since it will eventually impact my day job. 


    Categories: MSN | Technology

    The newest version of the MSN Search Toolbar adds tabbed browsing to Internet Explorer. You can check out a screenshot if you're curious to see what its like. Denise from the MSN Search Toolbar team blogged about it in her post Tabbed browsing is here! where she wrote

    Tabbed browsing not only makes online shopping easier (and my wallet more broke), it also drastically improves my web search experience! Have you ever gotten annoyed with hitting the back button repeatedly to get back to the original search results?  MSN Search Toolbar gives you the option to open MSN Search results in new background tabs. This is a HUGE time saver because it lets you keep the search results on one tab while links that you click open in the background.

    Best of all, Tabbed Browsing with MSN Search Toolbar works in Internet Explorer 5.01 or above! IE7 will also offer tabs but in the meantime this is a great option.

    I think it's way cool that the MSN Search Toolbar team has added this functionality to IE. First Trixie and Turnabout, and now tabbed browsing added via the MSN Search Toolbar. It definitely goes to show exactly how extensible IE is as a platform. Of course, I still am interested in seeing what Dean and his merry band have planned for IE7.



    Categories: MSN

    The next version of MSN's experimental RSS reader is available at http://www.start.com/3. You have to solve the questions before getting access to the next version of the site but once that's done you get access to the juicy goodness.

    This version of the site does a better job of letting you read posts inline. Another neat addition is the ability to drag and drop modules to arrange them on the page. Kudos to the the Steve Rider, Scott Isaacs and the rest of the folks who've worked on this.


    Categories: MSN

    A number of MSN Spaces users had to deal abusive comments from malicious users impersonating others on their weblogs. This is a problem we are well aware of and are examining various approaches to curtailing.

    Recently on I found an entry on Jen's Space entitled Petition where one of our users who's fed up with malicious comments wrote

    The following petition was made with regards to suggestions for further upgrades to MSN Spaces as pertains to security.

    1. We would like to see the option to enter any URL in your comment removed and replaced with a field showing the URL of the commenter by default. This field should also be inactive and therefore not available for modification or the changing of the default URL. There have been several cases where individuals have left hateful and slanderous comments on other Spaces using the URL of another member to avoid being identified. This sort of thing should be stopped and we believe that the above recommendation will help.

    2. As with MSN Messenger, the ability to have your Space public and still being able to block certain members from viewing or commenting on your Space would also be beneficial. There have been several members that went Private to avoid people they did not wish viewing or commenting in their Spaces.

    If in agreement to the above suggested upgrades to MSN Spaces please sign your names below in the form of a comment so that we can pass this on to the powers that be. I think we can all agree that these two recommendations will help with some of the ridiculous problems that certain members have been forced to deal with.

    We've considered both approaches to solving the malicious commenter problem but neither one seems like a complete solution. The main problem with the first request is that it doesn't handle the case where the commenter is a valid Passport user who doesn't have a Space. Unless we prevent people from being able to provide their own URL, name and email address then this solution wouldn't really work. Given that we already get complaints that requiring Passport to post is restrictive, this would seem even more problematic. The second request doesn't really work if the Space is public because all the malicious commenter has to do is sign out and then they have access to the Space even if their Passport account is blocked.

    For now, the best solution is to create a private space and add the Passport accounts of the various people you want to access your Space to your permission list. We have excellent documentation about permission settings which should show how to make your space accessible only to specific people in your address book or your MSN Messenger contacts.

    In the meantime, rest assured that we are working on solutions to the impersonation problem which allow users to trust that commenters are who they say they are while not limiting the expressivity of people who leave comments in a blog. 

    I love the tough problems.


    Categories: MSN | Social Software

    May 27, 2005
    @ 03:52 PM

    Of the major online service providers, Yahoo! has always been one of my favorites. I may use the Google search engine to find stuff online or MSN Messenger to chat with friends and coworkers, but I utilize more services from Yahoo! than any Web company. In fact, I'm the main reason that all the Windows machines in the computer labs of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech had the Yahoo! Toolbar installed on them when I was in college.

    Now that I work at MSN, I get to work on stuff that makes me as excited about software as I used to be in college when I first marvelled at the utility of Yahoo!'s toolbar. Even better is seeing a lot of the stuff I work on either directly or indirectly, influence one of my favorite online services.

    In a recent blog post entitled Not Nerdvana, But Maybe The Suburbs, Stowe Boyd writes

    I was out in California on the 12th, getting briefed by the Yahoo Messenger folks about the newest release of their instant messaging suite
    Note As I sketched in a recent post (Nerdvana: A Better Tool For Communication (I Can Dream, Can't I?)), I would really like a rich client on my desktop that put the buddy list firmly at the center of the universe, and all other stuff -- email, blog posts, to-dos, appointments, geographical location, whatever -- hanging off the buddy list as a collection of attributes. Because people and social relatedness is the center of the universe, not documents, calendars, email, etc.
    Note the 'contact card' in the screenshow above, where various elements of Jessica's digital relationship to me are displayed. We see various icons, representing ways I can contact her. But better, much better, we see the music she is playing, and new profile info and blog entry.

    The contact card is something we pioneered in the most recent release of MSN Messenger. It's illuminating to compare Stowe's screenshot of the Yahoo! Messenger contact card with a screenshot I took last year of the MSN Messenger 7.0 beta contact card.  I totally agree with Stowe Boyd that software should help people better communicate and interact with each other in social contexts. This is something that lots of folks at MSN are passionate about and it is edifying to see our competition follow our lead in this area.

    This morning I saw an article in Infoworld titled The battle for the blogosphere which had some interesting comments about competition between Yahoo! and MSN in the blogging arena. Some of the excerpts from the article are

    Introduced in beta form just last December, MSN Spaces now hosts over 10 million blogs, an eye-popping adoption rate that has blown past internal Microsoft expectations. "MSN Spaces is the fastest growing service MSN has ever introduced," said Brooke Richardson, lead product manager at MSN communication services.

    The significant thing for the blogging market is that Microsoft is doing it its way, designing MSN Spaces to have a central text-blogging core but complemented by and integrated with a suite of MSN online services, such as instant messaging, e-mail, music playlist posting, and photo sharing. Microsoft also built into the service access control features to let users determine who can view their blogs, although they can make their blogs totally open if they want. MSN Spaces will also notify users when blogs from friends have been updated.

    In March, Yahoo introduced in limited beta a service called Yahoo 360 whose concept and design are similar to MSN Spaces. This service comes as no surprise, because Yahoo, like Microsoft's MSN, has a wide variety of online services with which to surround its blogging service. As two leading Web portals, MSN and Yahoo have an amount and variety of online services under one roof that few others can rival, and blogging is something they're weaving into their overall fabric.

    Later on the in the article, the author takes issue with the lack of customizability of MSN Spaces in comparison to other online services such as Google's Blogger and even mentions Robert Scoble's post from last year, MSN Spaces isn't the blogging service for me. We've gotten a lot of feedback about customizability and we definitely will be looking into how we can offer more flexibility. 

    From my perspective, the competition between Yahoo! and MSN around who can build a better social computing experience for end users is a lot more exciting than the competition around search engines that have garnered all the press. This is definitely a fun time to be working at MSN.


    Categories: MSN

    May 24, 2005
    @ 05:28 PM

    Paul Thurrott has an interesting series of articles about MSN's past, present and future. In some ways it could be called How MSN Got It's Groove. 

      1. Part One: Beginnings
      2. Part Two: Fly, Butterfly
      3. Part Three: Services That Communicate

    The article does a good job of capturing a bunch of the changes that have happened in the organization over time as well as offers some hints as to some of our future plans. My favorite part of the article is this excerpt from its conclusion.

    When I speak with people from the Windows division at Microsoft about new product releases, there's always an unspoken assumption that I won't see these people again for many months or even years. With MSN, it's sort of a running joke that I'll often be speaking with them just days later. They just have so much going on.

    And we have a bunch of stuff planned for this year. The recently announced MSN Virtual Earth is just one of many cool things we'll be shipping this year.


    Categories: MSN

    There is an article on PC World entitled Gates Unveils MSN Virtual Earth which describes upcoming releases from MSN that were recently announced by Bill Gates at a recent event. Excerpts from the article are provided below

    Microsoft's MSN division will enhance its search engine in the next couple of weeks by adding a local search index for finding business directory listings. Later, the company will supplement this with MSN Virtual Earth, a free new service that will pinpoint places in maps and satellite images.   Local search is a gaping hole in the MSN search engine. All other major search engine providers, including Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and America Online, have a local search tab on their search Web sites. As part of its local search service, Google also provides maps and satellite images, offering functionality that is similar to what Microsoft is aiming for with MSN Virtual Earth.
    In addition to complementing MSN's local search index, MSN Virtual Earth will let users overlay maps and satellite photos in order to create hybrid images that combine the best of both mediums, says Stephen Lawler, general manager of Microsoft's MapPoint unit.

    MSN Virtual Earth will also be integrated with users' preferred e-mail application and, with a single click, will place links in e-mail messages to maps and images, says Steve Lombardi, a MapPoint program manager. Users will also be able to post images to their MSN Spaces Weblog from within the MSN Virtual Earth interface, Lombardi says.

    Users will be encouraged to provide feedback on business directory listings so that the MSN local search service will be able to give users a sense of what a particular area is like, Lawler says.

    MSN Virtual Earth uses technology from MapPoint and from Terra Server, a database of satellite images Microsoft has had for about ten years, the officials say.

    I was in a meeting with Steve Lombardi and a couple of other folks from the Virtual Earth team a while ago and they definitely have built a compelling product that they are quite passionate about. As mentioned in the article, there are interesting avenues for integration with other MSN properties such as MSN Search and MSN Spaces.

    It's great to see the innovation and competition coming out of the online mapping space. 

    Update: There is an interview with the Virtual Earth team complete with demos up on Channel 9.


    Categories: MSN

    The Inside Microsoft blog has an entry where he describes the Syndicate Conference Keynote by Phil Holden of MSN. Phil talks about MSN Spaces and the various things we are doing on Start.com. Excerpts from the post are below

    Next, Phil shows off MSN Spaces, which is very consumer oriented and easy to set up. He says, "The product is clearly not for everyone". It is very much targeted to the Friends/Friends market. The conducted a survey to see what people thought Spaces did well. Number one was sharing photos, while in last place was staying up to date on hot topics.

    He shows how many people use MSN Spaces. In December, it was one million. In January, 2; February, 3.5; and March, 4. However, since Messenger 7 went live and Spaces left beta, Spaces exploded, going up to 10 million Spaces at the end of April. Wow. They are adding 100,000 Spaces a day.

    Moving on, Phil gets into notifications. He mentions "gleaming", where Microsoft leverages Messenger to notify people that their friends have updated their Space. Clicking on a person reveals their contact card, and that can take you to the blog. This is the single-source personal notification system.

    Phil shows how a less personal, single-source public contact notification occurs, through MSN Alerts. This is what they acquired MessageCast for last week. It will work to notify people of updated blogs.

    The multiple-sourse public notification is through MSN's "What's Your Story" page, which highlights the most interesting Spaces.

    Then he introduces Kyle Von Haden, program manger of Global Site & Develoment at MSN, who shows off Start.com/1/, which is to be the multiple-source personal notification system, or RSS reader. He explains how they have been silently releasing and updating stuff on Start.com, with no publicity for the time being. Start.com can be a superfast loading home page. The whole thing is built in Ajax, so they can change the page without refreshing. They plan to add sections that suggest feeds that a person's friends like. The focus is making it easy, simple, fast, and with no learning curve.

    Then he shows off something new, what will be next: Start.com/3/, a much richer interface, with folders, logos, custom pages. You can add custom feeds, like weather feeds. It looks very, very impressive.
    Phil says one good idea would be to build RSS readers into existing applications, making it easier for users to adopt and use. Challenges exist in making it easier for users to understand what's going on, so they don't just get confused by little orange boxes. Industry challenges exist from different formats and authentication for private content.

    Kyle gets back up and shows off the next thing from MSN: a (currently alpha) screensaver that uses RSS to show recent news, much like Apple's Tiger has, but much cleaner looking. Its very easy to add any feed, especially easy for Spaces. You can subscribe to image feeds and have those feeds supply the photos on the screen, as well as showing blog entries and news articles. The product didn't work perfectly yet, but seeing the photos full-screen with other articles in the corner looked very useful.

    Phil wraps thing off with some goals, including serving multiple segments of consumers, new ways of getting content (like the screensaver), and strategies to let the public know how useful syndication can be.

    A great presentation. MSN clearly gets RSS better than most, and they've got some very interesting stuff coming down the pike.

    A few weeks ago I was chatting with Steve Rider about a feature I'd like to see on http://www.start.com/2 which I thought would be rather cool. Yesterday I got a demo of the next version of the site from Scott Isaacs, and not only was my idea implemented but the implementation was a lot better than what I requested. Excellent!!

    Now I can't wait for the next version to ship.  


    Categories: MSN

    From the press release Microsoft Delivers Powerful Upgrade to Desktop Search Capability for Windows Customers we find out

    The MSN® network of Internet services today launched the new MSN Search Toolbar with Windows® Desktop Search, a suite of tools that helps people rapidly search across the Web or their PC and provides easy access to world-leading MSN services. The final version of the MSN Search Toolbar includes free enhancements for Windows® 2000 and Windows XP customers, providing a dramatically upgraded desktop search experience. These new innovations for Windows customers will make it easier than ever to find and retrieve documents, e-mail, images, video and more on their Windows-based personal computers.

    "By offering the most integrated desktop search capabilities for Windows, now people can search their PC as fast as they can search the Web," said Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president for the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division at Microsoft. "The new MSN Search Toolbar makes it easy for customers to find precisely what they're looking for, no matter where it resides."

    The MSN Search Toolbar, available for free download today at http://desktop.msn.com, enables people to conveniently search their desktops from within familiar applications they use every day -- including Microsoft Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office Outlook® -- combining the one-step ease of a Web search with the richness and power of the PC environment.

    I was a bit confused by some aspects of this release. One of the reasons for this is that http://desktop.msn.com, http://toolbar.msn.com and http://toolbar.msn.com/default.aspx all have different content. It looks like the various toolbar related subdomains are now deprecated in favor of http://desktop.msn.com.

    As mentioned in my post from last year, Some Thoughts On the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta, the main feature I use is desktop search within Microsoft Office Outlook®. I notice that there has been one nice improvement in this feature; the inclusion of a preview pane for search results. This is very useful for skimming through mail messages returned by the search engine without having to open multiple mails. Even cooler is that the preview pane supports lots of different file types not just mail. Sweet.

    One interesting data point is that at around the same time the MSN Search team blogged about adding tabbed browsing to Internet Explorer in a future release, the Internet Explorer team announced that IE 7 will have tabbed browsing. It looks like one way or another I'm going to get tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer in the near future.


    Categories: MSN

    A few months ago Robert Scoble wrote a post titled Yahoo announces API for its search engine where he asked

    Seriously. Blogs are increasing noise to lots of searches. We already have good engines that let you search blogs (Feedster, Pubsub, Newsgator, Technorati, and Bloglines all are letting you search blogs). What about an engine that lets you search everything BUT blogs? Where's that?

    Is Yahoo's API good enough to do that? It doesn't look like it. It looks like Yahoo just gave us an API to embed its search engine into our applications. Sigh. That's not what I want. OK, MSN, your turn. Are you gonna really give us an API that'll let us build a custom search engine and let us have access to the variables that determine the result set?

    The first question Robert asks is hard but you can take shortcuts to get approximate results. How do you determine what a blog is? Do you simply exclude all results from LiveJournal, Blogspot and MSN Spaces? That would exclude millions of blogs but it wouldn't catch the various blogs on self hosted domains like mine. Of course, you could get even trickier by always asking to exclude pages that match certain words like "DasBlog", "Movable Type" or "WordPress" which would probably take out another large chunk. By then the search results would probably blog free as you can get without resorting to expensive matching techniques. For icing on the cake it would probably be useful to also be able to skew results by popularity or freshness.

    The second question Scoble asks is whether there is a search engine that gives you an API that can do all this stuff. Well MSN Search gives you RSS feeds which as I've mentioned in a previous post is sometimes the only API your website needs. More importantly, as pointed out in a recent post by Andy Edmonds entitled Search Builder Revealed, one can control how variables such as popularity or freshness affect search results. For example,

    1. Search results for "star wars revenge of the sith" by popularity

    2. Search results for "star wars revenge of the sith" by freshness

    One could probably write a first cut at the search engine Robert is asking for using the MSN Search RSS feeds in about an hour or so. In a day, it could be made to be quite polished with most of the work being in the user interface. Yet another coding project for a rainy day.


    Categories: MSN | Syndication Technology

    Since we launched MSN Spaces I've found it interesting to see how our competitors have reacted by producing competing services or features. First it was Yahoo! 360 which showed up 4 months after we went into widespread beta with a press release whose primary pitch -- an innovative new service that allows people to easily share what matters most to them and keep connected with the people they know -- was a lot like ours.

    Now according to the Infoworld article Google ponders Blogger, Gmail integration we find out

    Google is also evaluating an enhancement that lets users natively upload images to their blogs from within the Blogger interface, Stone said. Currently, images can be posted to Blogger via e-mail or using other indirect methods, such as Google's Hello image-transmission service. "There is a button there now [in the Blogger interface for image uploading] so we're working on making that a useful button," Stone said. "We're looking into that right now."
    Although users can password protect their Blogger blogs with third-party software or services, Blogger currently doesn't offer native ways for users to limit access to their blogs. However, Google is mulling over the possibility of adding some native privacy features, such as the ability for users to create private groups and that way control who can view their blogs, Stone said.
    Google introduced the latest enhancement to Blogger last week, when it launched Blogger Mobile, a feature that lets users create a new blog and post to it from mobile devices. "There's lots of people walking around with little blogging appliances which others may call mobile phones," Stone said.

    Although it is interesting that most of the features described in the article is stuff that we shipped last year, what I find even more interesting is that they aren't pre-announcing any features that aren't playing catchup with MSN Spaces or Yahoo! 360. I wonder if this is because they want to underpromise and overdeliver or whether this means 2005 is the year Blogger ends up playing catchup with the rest of the industry. Only time will tell.


    Categories: MSN

    May 12, 2005
    @ 11:02 AM

    From the press release MSN Acquires MessageCast to Expand Automated Alerting Services 

    The MSN® network of Internet services today announced that it has acquired substantially all the assets of MessageCast Inc., a leading provider of automated alerting and messaging technology that currently supports the MSN Alerts service. This acquisition builds on the robust MSN Alerts platform, enabling tighter integration with the MessageCast technology. It also extends MSN Alerts to new content channels, helping to expand the ability of MSN to connect consumers to the information and people they care about most.

    MSN Alerts empowers consumers to receive time-sensitive information from sources such as MSNBC, Fox Sports, Xbox®, MSN Hotmail®, MSN Money and other content partners. MSN has worked with MessageCast since 2003 to make it easier for content providers to offer free MSN Alerts services to MSN customers. These alerts can be delivered via any combination of MSN Messenger, Microsoft Windows® Messenger, e-mail and text messaging on mobile or handheld devices that are compatible with MSN Mobile. The service is currently offered in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish, and is available throughout the U.S. as well as select markets in Europe and Asia.

    MessageCast was an obvious acquisition target and we've been working so intimately with them I'd wondered why they weren't part of MSN. By the way, if you're an MSN Spaces user you can read Ryan's post Got Alerts? from last year to find out how to enable MessageCast alerts for your space. This gives your readers yet another way to get updated about changes to your space in case they aren't savvy enough to use an RSS reader.


    Categories: MSN

    Over the past few weeks there have been a bunch of reports on internal mailing lists about problems with MSN Spaces RSS feeds and Bloglines. The specific problem is that every once in a while old posts containing photos are marked as being new in Bloglines. There have also been some complaints that indicate this problem also manifests itself in Newsgator as well.

    After some investigation we discovered that this problem seemed to only occur in RSS items containing links to photos hosted on our storage servers such as blog posts with photo attachments or photo albums. This led to a hunch that this problem only affected RSS readers that mark old posts as new if any content in the <description> element changes. Once this was confirmed then we had our answer. For certain reasons, the permalink URL to an image stored on our storage servers changes over time*. Whenever one of these changes to the URLs of images takes place, then RSS readers that detect changes to the content <description> element of a feed will indicate that this post has been altered. 

    A brief discussion with the folks behind Bloglines indicates that there isn't a straightforward solution to this problem. It is unlikely that they will change their RSS parsing code to deal with the idiosyncracies of RSS feeds provided by MSN Spaces. Being the author of an RSS reader as well, I can understand not wanting to litter the code with special cases. Similarly it is unlikely that we will be changing the behavior that causes URLs to images hosted on our servers to change in the short term.

    After chatting with Mike and Jason about this one of the solutions we came up with was to use the dcterms:modified element in our RSS feeds. The element would contain the date of the last time a user directed change was made to the item, in this case the item would be a blog post or photo album. This means that RSS readers can simply test the value of the dcterms:modified element to determine if a post was changed by the user instead of performing inefficient textual comparisons of the contents of the post. In fact, the main reason I don't provide support for detecting changes in RSS items in RSS Bandit is the high rate of false positives as well as slowdowns caused by performing lots of text comparisons. Having this element in RSS feeds would make it a lot easier for me to support detecting changes to the contents of items in an RSS feed without degrading the user experience in the general case.

    Of course, without RSS readers deciding to support the use of the dcterms:modified element in RSS feeds this will continue to be a problem. I need to send some mail to Mark Fletcher and the RSS-AggDev mailing list to see what people think about supporting this element as a way to get around the "bogus new items" problem.

    * Note that this doesn't break links that reference that image with the old URL.


    Categories: MSN | Syndication Technology

    A bunch of folks from the Spaces team were in Asia recently talking to customers about how they used social software applications like instant messaging, blogging tools, email, social networking services, chat and dating sites. Recently Moz Hussain who's one of the product managers for the Spaces team provided some insights on current thinking about classifying users of social networking applications.

    Below are excerpts from his blog post

    In a people centric world, I see two major dimensions of people interaction: who I want to know about and who I want to share information with. This leads to four distinct segments as shown below.


    1) The Content Consumer 

    This group values their privacy but is voyeuristic in its desire to learn about others. One focus group participant explained how they like to compare thoughts and lifestyles of people in their social status and age bracket. They primarily use the Internet to search for information but rely on traditional communication methods for keeping in touch with close friends.

    This group needs easier ways to find information, including user generated content, on a particular topic. A company that does this well in Japan is Livedoor with rich categorization and editorials on user generated content.

    This group is often slightly older, but not exclusively so.

    2) The Relationship Builder

    This group is interested ONLY in their close circle of friends. They neither care about or want to share information with strangers. We have seen much higher prevalence of this group in Europe than elsewhere.

    Relationship Builders use a variety of online and offline communications tools to share private thoughts and memories with those close to them. This can include photos, opinions, what's going on in their lives. The reason can be to keep in touch, or just for fun with friends. In China, MSN Messenger is seen as a great product for this group. In Japan, MIXI is the leading web based service for this group.

    As many social networking tools are new to this group, they would benefit from greater education on the scenarios that are applicable to them.

    This group is often slightly older, but not exclusively so.

    3) The Social Networker

    This group enjoys meeting people, even strangers, online and interacting to kill time. They enjoy chat rooms, dating services and generally having multiple superficial relationships. It is not uncommon for this group to have more than 200 contacts in their Messenger contact list.

    This group is often younger and accesses the Internet from net cafes or mobile phones, i.e. away from prying eyes of parents and room mates. They often use paid for content to enrich their entertainment experience.

    Many early web based social networking products such as Friendster and Orkut effectively targeted this segment.

    4) The Content Creator

    This group is the classic "Maven". They consider themselves experts in a field (ranging from shopping to high tech) or have a desire to express their creativity publicly. They want to get their opinions heard. They use the Internet to research topics of interest, and then create blogs to write their take on the situation.

    This group is also interested in rewards for their content and opinions. There is an opportunity to align this group to service provider interests with appropriate reward mechanisms.

    This group is also slightly older and has a narrower range of feature interests.

    These groups are present in every geography, their relative size varies. The challenge now lies in addressing their needs and figuring out how to use each group to create a synergistic ecosystem of viewer and authors.

    All great fun and why I love this job so much!

    I think this classification of users of social networking services hits the mark. I also think it is quite cool that we are actually sharing this kind of information with the community of social software enthusiasts as opposed to keeping this as private market research.  I wonder what the various folks on the Corante Many2Many blog would have to say about the above classification scheme.

    I like the fact that this classification takes into account online social butterflies like Robert Scoble as well people who simply want to use social software to enhance their existing real world relationships.

    Putting the above data together with the Degrees of Kevin Bacon post by Mike Torres seems to imply that we are very interested in how people use social networking applications. I wonder why?



    Categories: MSN

    April 28, 2005
    @ 08:26 AM

    I tend to talk about MSN Spaces a lot which makes people think I work on that team when in truth I work with them as well as with the MSN Messenger and Hotmail folks. Although its easy to find folks who work on Spaces by simply starting from Mike Torres's blog, it isn't so straightforward for Hotmail or Messenger. Below is a short list of a few of MSN communications services folks blogs I am aware of



    There are a bunch of other blogs by the folks on the various client and server teams but these four are the ones that talk most about the products they work on. In fact, if you browse the various blog rolls on their spaces and mine you'll notice that most of the MSN folks use their spaces for personal stuff not work blogging.


    Categories: MSN

    April 28, 2005
    @ 08:06 AM

    Below is a grab bag of mildly interesting stuff that I happened to come across while browsing various blogs in the MSN Spaces universe

    • Today is Bloggers 101. I've already seen a bunch of Spaces blogs where folks have posted 101 facts about themselves. So far I've liked Deadites: My 101.

    • A couple of folks are trying to have an MSN Spaces block party. I don't know how successful it's going to be but this is the kind of thing folks used to use Meetup.com for. If they can't have a party I hope they at least get enough people to have a blogger dinner.

    • According to the PubSub linkcounts page for yesterday the most linked domains in the blogosphere where http://storage.msn.com (367,042 links links from 13,577 sites) and http://spaces.msn.com (30,727 links from 7,539 sites). Not only are we growing to be the biggest blog hosting service on the Web but it looks like we are becoming the most active community as well.


    Categories: Mindless Link Propagation | MSN

    I mentioned in a recent post that I was considering writing an article entitled Using Javascript, XMLHttpRequest and RSS to create an MSN Spaces photo album browser. It actually took less work than I thought to build a webpage that allows you to browse the photo albums in a particular person's Space or from a randomly chosen Space. 

    I haven't used Javascript in about 5 years but it didn't take much to put the page together thanks mostly to the wealth of information available on the Web.

    You can find the page at http://www.25hoursaday.com/spaces/photobrowser.html 

    The page requires Javascript and currently only works in Internet Explorer but I'm sure that some intrepid soul could make it work in Firefox in a couple of minutes. If you can, please send me whatever changes are necessary.  


    Categories: MSN | XML

    Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal recently tried out MSN Spaces and has a review in today's issue. His review Microsoft Service Lets You Create A Nice Blog, But Limits Tweaking contains the following excerpts

    If you think that only techies can launch a blog, or Web log, to share their views with friends, family or the whole Internet -- think again. Numerous online services make it dead simple for anyone to create a blog, at no cost, with no technical knowledge whatsoever.
    Google got a big jump when it bought a service called Blogger (blogger.com). Today, the company hosts an estimated eight million blogs. Yahoo is developing an elaborate service called Yahoo 360 (360.yahoo.com), which offers blogging and other features designed to connect people. It's currently in a test phase, open only by invitation.

    Microsoft has just launched its own blogging service, called MSN Spaces (spaces.msn.com). Because it's the newest of the giants' offerings to complete its test phase, I decided to try it out. Microsoft says it already has more than seven million blogs in Spaces, and is adding new ones at a rate of over 100,000 a day.

    My verdict: MSN Spaces is very well done. It makes it easy to create a simple, attractive blog with text, links and photos, and to customize the blog in interesting ways

    The review was quite favorable which is great news for us because it means we've done a good job at hitting our target demographic. This is awesome given that this is just the first version. 

    A number of the criticisms in the article related to limited customizability are things we are aware about and plan to address in future releases. Y'all should nag Karen with your ideas. :)

    As for the number of spaces created so far, that isn't a typo. We've added over 2.5 million spaces since it came out of beta two weeks ago. 100,000 new spaces a day is actually a conservative number, we were seeing multiples of that number shortly after launch but I assume our current adoption rate will hover at that number for now.


    Categories: MSN

    Evan Williams recently met with Jim Allchin and wrote about in his blog post Dinner with Jim Allchin. Evan writes

    One of Jim's repeated statements was that he wanted to bring "this stuff" to the masses. I asked for clarification because, in a lot of Microsoft's talk, they speak of RSS and blogging as the same thing. He agreed they weren't the same thing, and it seemed to be RSS he was talking about implementing in a variety of ways throughout Windows (e.g., built-in readers, automatic feed generation from a variety of lists...). While Microsoft does have a blogging tool, that's MSN—not Jim's department.

    We discussed, briefly, how cool it would be if Windows had, say, the Atom API built in—and then that, it already would had the Atom API been built on WebDAV. Hmmm...I've heard that before.

    It seemed pretty clear to me that it is not in Allchin's edict to create web services that bridge the gap between the desktop and the web—which, to me, seems like the future of computing (not to mention, the real potential power play against Google, et al). His job is to create another Windows. They will make more plumbing for others to plug in such services—and I assume it will be within MSN's edicts to do so. But they didn't do much (nor has anyone else) to take advantage even of the stuff that's in XP (such as Save to Web via WebDAV), to Allchin's dismay, it seemed.

    I have seen a lot of interest across Microsoft for bringing RSS to the masses and all of us working on MSN Spaces definitely do want to bring blogging to everyone. There are definitely  cool things coming up in the next year or two.

    As to whether MSN takes advantage of the various WebDAV related features of Windows XP? I suggest taking a look at the article on Publishing Web Site Content with Windows XP specifically at the section entitled Publishing to Remote Locations Using WebDAV. Not only do we support the WebDAV functionality in Windows XP in our properties such as MSN Groups but since there are so many Windows XP users out there, we don't dare change it without risking causing a negative user experience for a lot of people.

    Guess who has to deal with the WebDAV legacy as part of his day job? :)


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | MSN

    April 15, 2005
    @ 07:39 PM

    I've been bemused by a number of posts attacking Volvo by Henry Copeland who runs BlogAds.com. In his recent posts, such as Volvo buys safety, gets dreck and Volvo Whiplash, Henry Copeland attacks Volvo for sponsoring MSN Spaces where most blogs have a small readership as opposed to paying him to put ads on the weblogs of "A-List" bloggers such as Dave Winer and Andrew Sullivan which have a larger number of readers than the average MSN Spaces blog.

    I could write an entire essay refuting this type of thinking but Chris Anderson has already done so in his article The Long Tail. It is a very insightful look at how to view audiences for  content and the fallacy of chasing after the big hits or popular content to garner success in the market place.


    Categories: MSN

    April 12, 2005
    @ 05:21 PM

    This morning I found an interesting article about the growth of blogging entitled The Blogging Geyser: Blogs Blast from 31.6 Million Today to Reach 53.4 Million by Year End. Below is an excerpt about various blogging services which I found interesting  

    Perseus prepared a segmentation of the key blog hosts by analyzing the sites on two dimensions - momentum (new user accounts averaged over the life of the service) and longevity (length of time operational) - establishing four key segments: Leaders, Challengers, Upstarts and Niche Players.

    The leaders (high momentum, long-time players) were BlogSpot, LiveJournal and Xanga, all launched in 1999. At the end of the first quarter of 2005, each had between 6.6 and 8.2 million accounts. The primary challenger (high momentum, new player) is MSN Spaces , which launched in North America in December 2004 and was closing in on 4.5 million accounts at the end of the first quarter .

    Upstarts (moderate momentum, new players) included Six Apart's TypePad and Greatest Journal among others. Niche players demonstrated longevity but little momentum.

    Blogging Is A Feature, Too

    One of the newer aspects of blogging is that it's now an added feature being incorporated into other web applications. Social networking sites like the reinvented MySpace.com and teen sites like Bolt.com now offer blogging as a standard feature of their online accounts. Blogging appears to be used by just 4.7 percent of Bolt's 4.5 million accounts and by a somewhat greater percentage of MySpace.com's 12 million accounts. While neither service has been included in this study, they are testaments to the continued expansion and growth of web logs.

    A lot of us working on MSN Spaces have been pretty humbled and impressed by how quickly the service has grown. During the beta period the service was acquiring users at the rate of about a million signups a month. When the site had about 4.5 million users we were seeing about 160,000 to a 180,000 updates a day which is about 4% of blogs being updated a day. These numbers compare quite favorably with LiveJournal's statistics which currently show they have 6.7 million blogs with 350,000 to 370,000 updates a day which is about 5% of blogs being updated a day. Given that LiveJournal is one of the most active and tight-knit blogging communities on the Web, it seems that MSN Spaces is definitely doing some things right.

    Given that the service is now out of beta along with MSN Messenger coming out of beta I expect that its growth rate will increase over the next few months. It is pretty exciting to realize that the stuff I'm currently working on as part of my day job will directly affect millions of people. 


    PS: A minor clarification to the article. Spaces actually launched in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide last year, not just North America. 


    Categories: MSN

    April 7, 2005
    @ 02:50 PM

    The final version of MSN Messenger 7.0 is out.

    You can catch the offical word from the press release Global Availability of MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces Connects People Around the World. Highlights below

     MSN Messenger Makes Instant Messaging More Dynamic Than Ever

    Globally, more than 155 million customers rely on the MSN Messenger service each month to connect with their friends and family and, collectively, exchange more than 2.5 billion instant messages (IMs) every day. MSN Messenger 7.0 is available today worldwide in 26 languages and introduces improved video, voice and personalization features that allow people to communicate in more meaningful ways than ever. Available for download at http://messenger.msn.com, MSN Messenger 7.0 has added new features since its December 2004 public beta release, including these:

    • Free PC-to-PC video conversation. The new, free MSN Video Conversation service,1 powered by Logitech technology, connects people with one-click synchronized audio and video, and offers full-screen video viewing - the next best thing to really being there.
    • Ability to talk over the Internet for free. MSN Messenger 7.0 includes higher-quality audio functionality so customers can enjoy free,2 real-time PC-to-PC voice conversations with friends and family around the world.
    • PC-to-mobile communications. Customers will soon be able to stay in touch by sending IMs to friends and family who aren't on their PC. Customers in selected countries will be able to send SMS text messages from MSN Messenger to mobile phones - even if the person they are sending to doesn't have an MSN Messenger account - and the mobile user can reply to the MSN Messenger user.3 This feature will be available in multiple markets this spring.
    • Greater personalization. New personalization options, including Winks, Dynamic Display Pictures and theme packs, help customers show their personality and their mood. Customers can choose from a selection of free content or get premium content from companies such as AG Interactive, the media subsidiary of American Greetings Corp., Wisepost/YNK, 3H Group PTY Ltd., Saw-you.com and Techno Design Internet Programming for a small fee.
    • Instant MSN Search capability. MSN Messenger 7.0 offers a Shared Search button in the conversation window so people can find answers instantly through MSN Search while they continue their conversation.
    • Photo-sharing options. Customers can have more fun with their friends by sharing photos during a conversation and viewing a slide show together. People can save shared photos and add pictures of their own to the photo swap session.
    • Unique presence options. People can now display a personal message alongside their Messenger name and status. The customized message can include a greeting that expresses their mood or show the name of a song the person is listening to on Windows Media® Player or iTunes Player. With one click, customers can go to MSN Music to purchase the song or listen to a snippet.

    As cool as this list of features is, it isn't exhaustive since it doesn't mention features that shipped in the beta from last year such as setting your online status on login, gleams or contact cards.

    I definitely have been overusing features like showing the name of the song playing in iTunes, Dynamic Display Pictures and Winks. This release is off the hook. Grab it.  


    Categories: MSN

    April 7, 2005
    @ 02:29 PM

    As some of you may have noticed the MSN Spaces homepage changed last night. It is officially out of beta and there have been a few enhancements to the service made in the transition.

    You can catch the offical word from the press release Global Availability of MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces Connects People Around the World. Highlights below

    Over the past year MSN has seen consumers' appetite for richer, personalized online communications services surge globally, as evidenced by the rapid growth of MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces. Since the MSN Spaces beta version was introduced in late 2004, more than 4.5 million Spaces have been created, making MSN Spaces one of the fastest-growing blogging services in the world.


    MSN Spaces Offers Consumers Easy Way to Connect and Share Photos, Music and More

    With today's launch, MSN Spaces, a blogging service, will now be available in 15 languages and 30 markets worldwide. While MSN Messenger enables people to connect in real time, MSN Spaces augments their IM relationship by enabling people to connect on their own time, letting friends and family know they have something new to share via "gleam" notifications on their MSN Messenger contact list. MSN Spaces is a dynamic online scrapbook where consumers can easily post blogs, photo albums, personal music lists and more, essentially telling the story of their life. Customers have control over whom they share their Space with: limiting it to a few, sharing only with those on their MSN Messenger contact list, or opening it up to the worldwide Internet.

    But enough of the official spiel. As always the good stuff is to be found in the blogs. One of the changes made is that about 50 new themes have been added, providing users with more choices when deciding to customize their Space. Karen has the low down in her post new themes!. I saw a bunch of complaints while Spaces was in beta about the available themes being "ugly". A number of the new themes are quite simple yet elegant which I'm sure will appeal to the aesthetic folks out there.

    We've also made some storage improvements as Mike points out in his post More storage, better comments... and more! . Specifically we've tripled photo storage space from 10MB to 30MB and there's no longer a length limit on comments. Also URLs in comments are automatically changed to hyperlinks (with rel=nofollow applied).

    My favorite changes are the RSS & pinging enhancements which I had some input into. As Mike writes

    Clicking on the orange RSS button or the "Syndicate" link above will no longer spit out raw XML to your readers using a modern browser.  Instead, they will see a "pretty printed" RSS feed with a link to learn more, subscribe in My MSN, or subscribe in an aggregator supporting one-click subscription (feed://) 

    To see an example of what this looks like in practice, check out the RSS feed for my Space. If you are wondering what RSS readers support one click subscription, the list includes ShrookRSS Bandit, NewsGator, NetNewsWire, FeedDemonAwasu, SharpReader, FeedReader, WinRSS, VoxLite, and NewzCrawler.

    Another cool RSS enhancement is that the number of comments one each post is now provided using the slash:comments elements. Now users of aggregators like RSS Bandit can track the comment counts on various posts on a space. I've been wanting that since last year.

    Last year, Spaces sent pings to Weblogs.com when new posts were created. With last night's release this list has expanded to include Feedster, Technorati, PubSub, and My MSN.



    Categories: MSN

    One of the things I have found most interesting about watching MSN Spaces over the past few months is seeing various communities beginning to form and watching regular people use their space to communicate that their thoughts and experiences with others. As with all communities there are the negative elements, various trolls who go around criticizing people's posts or who go around impersonating others in various comments.

    Another interesting trend I've seen in a couple of spaces is a some resentment from adults that there are so many teenagers using MSN Spaces. The most significant manifestation of this being the Space titled Are you looking for adults and their spaces? where one enterprising MSN Spaces user has begun cataloguing various spaces whose authors are 18 and over.

    Among the spaces listed on that page are a couple of my favorites. A few of the hundreds of spaces I've found interesting since the beta launch are below

    What I like most about these Spaces is that their content is [mostly] not what you find in the Technorati Top 100 list which is dominated by men talking about technology and politics or women talking about sex. The above spaces just have regular people sharing the interesting and the mundane in their lives which sometimes do involve technology, politics and sex.

    Perhaps it's the rise of reality TV that's made me find such spaces so very interesting. Of course, if you want technical content you can always check out the spaces of John Kountz or Scott Issacs.


    Categories: Mindless Link Propagation | MSN

    March 31, 2005
    @ 03:45 PM

    Bloglines just published a new press release entitled Bloglines is First to Go Beyond the Blog with Unique-to-Me Info Updates which is excerpted below

    Oakland, CA -- March 30, 2005 -- Ask Jeeves®, Inc. (Nasdaq: ASKJ), today announced that Bloglines™ (www.bloglines.com), the world’s most popular free online service for searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content has released the first of a wave of new capabilities that help consumers monitor customized kinds of dynamic web information. With these new capabilities, Bloglines is the first web service to move beyond aggregating general-audience blogs and RSS news feeds to enable individuals to receive updates that are personal to their daily lives.

    Starting today, people can track the shipping progress of package deliveries from some of the world’s largest parcel shipping companies—FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Servicewithin their Bloglines MyFeeds page. Package tracking in Bloglines encompasses international shipments, in English. Bloglines readers can look forward to collecting more kinds of unique-to-me information on Bloglines in the near future, such as neighborhood weather updates and stock portfolio tracking.

    “Bloglines is a Universal Inbox that captures all kinds of dynamic information that helps busy individuals be more productive throughout the day—at the office, at school, or on the go,” said Mark Fletcher, vice president and general manager of Bloglines at Ask Jeeves. “With an index of more than 370 million blog and news feed articles in seven languages, we’re already one of the largest wells of dynamic web information. With unique-to-me news updates we’re aiming to be the most comprehensive and useful personalized information resource on the web.”

    So it looks like Bloglines is evolving into MyYahoo! or MyMSN which already provide a way to get customized personal information from local news and weather reports to RSS feeds and email inboxes. 

    I've been pitching the concept of the digital information hub to folks at work but I think the term 'universal inbox" is a more attractive term. As a user spends more and more time in front of an information consumption tool be it an email reader, RSS reader or online portal, the more data sources the user wants supported by the tool. Online portals are now supporting RSS. Web-based RSS readers are now supporting content that would traditionally show up in a personalized view at an online portal.

    At MSN, specifically with http://www.start.com/2/, we are exploring what would happen if you completely blurred the lines between a web-based RSS reader and the traditional personalized dashboard provided by an online portal. It is inevitable that both mechanisms of consuming information online will eventually be merged in some way. I suspect the result will look more like what Steve Rider's team is building than MyYahoo! or Bloglines do today.

    As I mentioned before we'd love feedback about all the stuff we are doing at start.com. Don't be shy send your feedback.


    Categories: MSN | Syndication Technology

    MSN services such as MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger require one to create a Passport account to use them. Passport requires the use of an email address which is used as the login name of the user. However as time progresses people often have to change email addresses for one reason or the other. On such occassions I've seen a couple of requests internally asking for the ability to change the Passport account an MSN Spaces or MSN Messenger  account is associated with. 

    Doing this is actually quite straightforward in the general case. All one has to do is go to the Passport.net website and click on the 'View or edit your profile' link which should have an option for changing the email address associated with the Passport. And that's it.

    Thanks to a recent changes made by some of the devs on our team, the renaming process now works seamlessly in MSN Messenger. You don't have to import your existing contact list to the new account nor do your contacts have to add the new email address to their contact list. Instead the change to your email address propagates across the MSN network in about an hour or so.

    The are some caveats. The first is that renaming a Passport to a Hotmail account isn't supported at the current time. Another is that you may be prevented from changing your display name from the new email address in MSN Messenger for some time. This means that your friends will see you in their contact list as yourname@example.com (if that is your email address).

    The above information also applies if you've been asked to change your MSN Messenger email address because your employer is deploying Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 with Public IM Connectivity (PIC).  


    Categories: MSN

    Last night, we put the finishing touches on an upgrade to the server-side of MSN Messenger. The maximum size of a buddy list has been increased from 150 to 300. Enjoy.

    Categories: MSN

    March 21, 2005
    @ 12:02 PM

    TDavid has a post critical of MSN Spaces where he writes  I think it's about time for another MSN Spaces update.

    I'm starting to lose interest in MSN Spaces as a blogging tool.

    Some of the future features that have been hinted at like the ability to host a spaces at our own domain like blogger does need to come to fruition to revitalize my interest in this service. I purchased a domain for this very purpose months ago and they sit, collectin dust.

    Not just me though, I don't hear many others talking about MSN Spaces any more either. I know the target audience isn't regular bloggers, but just people who want to have a journal, but if Microsoft really wants MSN Spaces to compete with blogger then they need to add the ability to run off their own domain and open up the template customization a lot more.

    Otherwise this will become -- maybe it already is -- just a glorified diary for sharing notes, pictures and music playlists with family and friends.

    I'll let Mike talk about upcoming features, site updates and the like. There is one thing, I would like to address though. If people view MSN Spaces as a place for people to share their words, music and images with their friends and family then it would be fulfilling our goals for the site and I'd view it as an unbridled success. In my post entitled Why MSN Spaces and not MSN Blogs? I wrote

    As to why they are called "spaces" as opposed to "blogs" it is because we believe there is more to sharing one's experiences online than your online journal. People want to share their thoughts, their favorite music, their favorite books, pictures of their loved ones and so on. It isn't just  posting your thoughts and experiences in the reverse chronological order which is what typically defines a "weblog". It's supposed to be a person's personal space online which was the original vision of personal publishing on the Web which spawned the personal homepage revolution a couple of years ago. Weblogs are the next iteration of that vision and we expect MSN Spaces to be the refinement of that iteration.

    MSN Spaces is designed to allow people to create textual and visual diaries of their lives to share with others. We aren't the only one's that believe this as is evidenced by competing services such as Yahoo! 360° which has borrowed a leaf or two from our book. I'm curious as to what other goals a weblogging service could have?


    Categories: MSN

    Steve Rider, one of the great folks behind start.com, has started a category on his blog devoted to the site. His first post discusses some of the changes they've made to the site in the past week. He writes

    As soon as I finish this post I'll be digging in my heels for the afternoon and working on OPML import support and increasing the number of headlines per feed.  Hey, what are rainy Sunday afternoons for?

    Here are some of the improvements we've made since we were "discovered" a week and a half ago:


    • Full Firefox support
    • Migrated from cookie-based solution to back-end store for feeds and preferences
    • Removed the restriction on the number of feeds that can be added
    • Added ability to delete items from My Feeds and Recent Searches
    • Title of module is now hyperlinked (oops) and also gets updated if the title in the RSS feed is different
    • Show search history in correct order
    • Lots of fit and finish and minor cosmetic changes


    • Fixed a few problems with the ActiveX control that were causing boomarks not to be imported (there are still a couple of issues affecting some users)
    • Added OPML import support
    • Increased performance when fetching from server by making more async calls

    One of the features I asked Steve for was OPML import so it's good to see that it's already being added to the site. I didn't realize how fast they'd be turning around on feature requests. Looks like I should dust off my list of feature requests for online aggregators and swing by Steve's office sometime this week. Sweet.


    Categories: MSN | Syndication Technology

    March 14, 2005
    @ 01:57 AM

    Recently I saw a post by Ed Oswald entitled Has Spaces Changed the Way You Blog? where he wrote

    In the coming weeks I will be writing a commentary on the success of MSN Spaces for BetaNews.. I have made it no secret through several of my posts as well as comments to my friends that I truly think MSN has really struck gold with Spaces, and could change the way people think about blogs. Blogging before Spaces was more unidirectional -- where the author posted to an group which he likely did not know -- and were usually somewhat impersonal. However, with Spaces it's more omnidirectional -- yes, these can be your old fashioned blog -- however, through integration with MSN Messenger and the like, Spaces becomes an extension of your online self. You match it to your interests -- and people can learn more about you than a simple blog can provide. What music interests you -- photos of your recent trip to Australia -- and what not. Plus -- when you have something to say, all your friends will known in seconds with the "gleam".

    Many people [especially in the mainstream media] view blogging as amateur punditry. However the truth is that for most people blogging and related activities are about communicating their thoughts and sharing their experiences with others [mainly friends and family]. This is a key aspect of the vision behind MSN Spaces. We aren't the first service provider to design a blogging service based on this premise, LiveJournal would be one of the best examples of this, but I believe have done one of the best jobs so far in truly focusing on building a platform for sharing experiences with friends, family & strangers.

    At ETech, I am supposed to demo how the integration of MSN Messenger, MSN Spaces and Hotmail improves the ability of our users to communicate with their friends and family than in isolation. It is clear that this provides enormous value to our users as evidenced by posts such as Ed's, I just hope that I end up presenting this in a way that clearly shows why what we've built is so cool.


    Categories: MSN

    A bunch of folks at work have been prototyping a server-side RSS reader at http://www.start.com/1/. This isn't a final product but instead is intended to show people some of the ideas we at MSN are exploring around providing a rich experience around Web-based RSS/Atom aggregation.  

    The Read/Write Web blog has a post entitled Microsoft's Web-based RSS Aggregator? which has a number of screenshots showing the functionality of the site. The site has been around for a few weeks and I'm pretty surprised it took this long to get widespread attention.

    We definitely would love to get feedback from folks about the site. I'm personally interested in where people would like to see this sort of functionality integrated into the existing MSN family of sites and products, if at all.

    PS: You may also want to check out http://www.start.com/2/ to test drive a prototype of a Web-based bookmarks manager.


    Categories: MSN

    March 5, 2005
    @ 04:49 PM

    Yesterday, in a meeting to hash out some of the details of MSN Spaces API an interesting question came up. So far I've been focused on the technical details of the API (what methods should we have? what protocol should it use? etc) as well as the scheduling impact but completely overlooked a key aspect of building developer platform. I hadn't really started thinking about how we planned to support developers using our API. Will we have a website? A mailing list? Or a newsgroup? How will people file bugs? Do we expect them to navigate to http://spaces.msn.com and use the feedback form?

    Besides supporting developers, we will need a site to spread awareness of the existence of the API. After noticing the difference in the media response to the ability to get search results as RSS feeds from MSN Search and the announcement of the Yahoo! Search Developer Network it is clear to me that simply having great functionality and blogging about it isn't enough. To me, getting MSN Search results as RSS feeds gives me at least two things over Yahoo's approach. The first is that developers don't have to register with MSN as they have to with Yahoo! since they need to get application IDs. The second is that since the search results are an RSS feed, they not only can be consumed programmatically but can be consumed by regular users with off the shelf RSS readers. However I saw more buzz about YSDN than about the MSN Search feeds from various corners. I suspect that the lack of "oomph" in the announcement is the cause of this occurence.

    Anyway, getting back to how we should support developers who want to use the MSN Spaces APIs, I'd be very interested to hear from developers of blogging tools as to what they'd like to see us do here.

    Update: Jeroen van den Bos reminds me that MSN Search RSS feeds are only licensed for personal use. I need to ping the MSN Search folks about that.

    Update: Mike Torres points out that both Yahoo (see YSDN FAQ) and Google (see Google API FAQ) have similar restrictions in their terms of use. It would be good to see MSN leading the way here. We've already gone one step better by not requiring developers to register and get application IDs. We should be able to the loosen the terms of use as well.


    Categories: MSN

    In his post Maybe a better posting api is needed  James Robertson writes

    I've had harsh words to say about Atom in the past, but that was mostly over the feed format. I haven't looked at the posting API yet - maybe I should. The Blogger API and the MetaqWebLog API are simply nightmares. There doesn't seem to be any standard way for client tools to interact with a server - I was debugging the interaction between a client and my server last night via IRC. Even better - the client was set to use the MetaWebLog api, but was sending requests to blogger.apiNameHere names. Sheesh. There was also an interesting difference in api points - I had implemented 'getUserBlogs', and the client was sending 'getUsersBlogs'. A quick Google search turned up references to both. Sigh.

    I implemented both names, pointing to the same method. I had to map blogger names over to MetaWebLog entry points, at least for the tool being tested last night - who knows what oddness will turn up next. What a complete mess...

    I've been similarly stunned by the complete and utter mess the state of weblogging APIs is in. As I mentioned in my post What Blog Posting APIs are supported by MSN Spaces? one of my duties at work is to investigate the options and design the blogging API story for MSN Spaces. In doing this, I have discovered all the issues James Robertson brought up and more. Mark Pilgrim has an ApacheCon presentation entitled The Atom API which highlights some of the various issues. One of the lowlights from his presentation is the fact that the MetaWeblog API spec significantly contradicts itself by stating that the data model of structs passed between client and server is based on RSS 2.0 then includes examples of requests and responses that show that it clearly isn't.

    My personal favorite bit of information that can only be discovered by trial and error is the existence of the blogger.deletePost method which isn't listed in the Blogger API documentation but is supported by a number of blog posting clients and weblog servers.

    I can't believe that anyone who wants to write a client or server that uses the standard weblogging APIs has to go through this crap. It almost makes me want to go join in the atom-protocol discussions. Almost.


    In the article entitled Wonder Why MSN Didn't Think of This?  Mary Jo Foley writes

    Or, maybe it has but just has yet to announce it…. On Monday, AOL announced a beta of AIM Sync, a tool that effectively turns Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client into a massive AOL Instant Messaging buddy list.

    The implication here is that similar integration of instant messaging presence information does not exist between Outlook and MSN Messenger. This is actually incorrect. This feature exists today in Outlook 2003 and is called the Person Names Smart Tag. Below is a screenshot of my email inbox showing the feature in action.

    email inbox shoing mike champion's online status

    In fact, this feature is a cause of a common annoyance among users of MSN Messenger and Outlook. Many people have complained that they can't close MSN Messenger if Outlook is running. This is the feature responsible for that behavior. Disabling it removes the dependency between both applications.  

    It's good to see yet another of our competitors learning from our innovations.


    Categories: MSN

    Every once in a while I check out the forums on Channel 9 to see what the conversations are happening between Microsoft and its customers. Today I found a post entitled MSNFOUND is so sad... which is in reference to the MSN.:FOUND website. The comments on the site on the Chanel 9 forums seems to be universally negative. Looking a little further, I notice that checking the Bloglines citations for http://www.msnfound.com also results in numerous blog postings about the site whose feedback is primarily negative.

    The reasons for this are unsurprising. They were listed in Robert Scoble's blog posting where he lambasted the creators of the site and asked for them to be fired. I agree with most of what Robert wrote in his post. I'd only add one thing, please don't hold this against us. We aren't as stupid as our marketing people make us look.


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | MSN

    February 9, 2005
    @ 01:43 PM

    The team I work for at MSN has open developer and test positions. Our team is responsible for the underlying infrastructure of services like MSN Messenger, MSN Spaces, MSN Groups and some of Hotmail. We frequentlu collaborate with other properties across MSN such as MyMSN and MSN Search as well as with other product units across Microsoft such as in the case of Outlook Live. If you are interested in building world class software that is used by hundreds of millions of people and the following job descriptions interest you then send me your resume

    Software Design Engineer (Developer)

    The team builds key platforms that facilitate storing and sharing photo albums, files, blogs, calendars, buddy lists, favorites, etc. We are looking for a strong software developer with good problem solving skills and at least 2-3 years of experience with C++ or other programming languages. Experience in relational databases especially data modeling, schema design, developing stored procedures and programming against the databases is required. Candidates with good SQL knowledge and performance tuning databases will be preferred.

    Software Design Engineer/Test (Tester)

    The MSN Communication and Platform Services team is looking for a passionate and experienced SDET candidate with a strong programming, design, and server background to help us test next generation internet sharing and communication scenarios at MSN. You will be responsible for designing and creating the test automation and tools for the MSN Contacts service, which stores over 9 billion live MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger contacts for over 400 million users. You should be able to demonstrate thorough understanding of testing methodologies and processes. Requirements for this position include strong skills in C++ or C#, design, problem solving, troubleshooting, proven experience with test case generation techniques or model based testing methodologies. communication (written & verbal). and a strong passion for quality. Your position will include key tasks such as writing test plans and test cases, working with PM and Development to provide them with integration and architecture feedback, working across teams with major partners such as Hotmail, Office, and Windows, and driving quality and performance related issues to resolution.

    Email your resume to dareo@msft.com (replace msft with microsoft) if the above job descriptions sound like they are a good fit for you. If you have any questions about what working here is like, you can send me an email and I'll either follow up via email or my blog to answer any questions of general interest [within reason].


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | MSN

    February 9, 2005
    @ 12:27 PM

    Abbie, who is one of the coolest MSN Spaces users around, has a posted a collection of links to various posts showing how to get extra mileage out of MSN Spaces. Check out her post MSN Spaces Tips, Tricks, Gods and More . Some of my favorite links from her page include

    Alerts For Your Space - want to set up alerts are learn how they work? Read here!

    Edit It! Button - Scott's trick for obtaining additional blog editing features.

    Guide to Trackbacks - What are trackbacks and how do you use them?

    Edit! Help for FireFox Users - Some editing perks for your FireFox users.

    Understanding Layout Customization - Learn your way around customizing your Space.

    Minimizing Content Spam - Great post by Mike regarding spam in your Space.

    Podcasting Your Space - Great information on how to set up your own podcast of your Space

    Deleting Your Space - What really happens when you delete your Space?

    Take Too Long and Lose It - Did you know you could lose your post if you take too long to type it out?  Read and learn how to prevent it.

    Add A GuestBook - a unique way to add a guestbook to your Space

    Give Your FeedBack and Ideas for Spaces - Have an idea for Spaces? Get it heard here!

    Who Owns Your Spaces Content - a small but great FYI post regarding your content

    There is at least one neat trick that Abbie missed from her list. Jim Horne shows how to embed audio and video into a blog post on a Space. Excellent.


    Categories: Mindless Link Propagation | MSN

    Mike has a post entitled 5 Things I Dislike About MSN Spaces where he lists the top 5 issues he has with the service. 

    Five things I dislike about MSN Spaces:

    1. I can't use BlogJet to post to my blog today.  Not a huge deal, but I love this little tool.  Web browsers (Firefox included!) just don't do it for me in the way of text editing.

    2. We don't have enough themes, which means there isn't enough differentiation between spaces.  People come in a lot of flavors.

    3. We don't have comments on anything other than blog entries, which means a lot of people are using comments to either a) comment on photos, or b) comment on the space itself.

    4. The Statistics page doesn't roll-up RSS aggregator "hits", only web page-views.  I want to know who is reading this post in various aggregators.

    5. The recent blog entry on the MSN Messenger 7.0 beta contact card doesn't show enough information to compel me to visit the user's space.  

    since I'm the eternal copycat I also decided to put together a top 5 list of issues I'd like to see fixed in the service. Some of them I am in the process of fixing and some I'm still nagging folks like Mike to fix since they are UI issues and have nothing to do with my areas of responsibility. Here's my list

    Five things I'd like to see fixed in MSN Spaces:

    1. I can't post to my blog using standard weblog tools such as the BlogJet, w.bloggar or Flickr. I now have 3 blogs and I'd love to author my posts in one place then have it automatically posted to all three of them. My MSN Spaces blog prevents this from happening today.

    2. The text control for posting to your blog should support editing raw HTML and support a WYSIWYG editting. I find it stunning that open source projects like dasBlog & Community Server::Blogs have a more full featured edit control for posting to ones blog than a MSN Spaces.

    3. The user experience around managing and interacting with my blogroll is subpar. I'd love to be able to upload my aggregator subscription list as an OPML file to my MSN Space blog roll. While we're at it, it would be cool to render MSN Spaces blogs differently in my blog roll and links in my posts perhaps with a pawn such as what LiveJournal does with Livejournal user pawn which links to a user's profile.

    4. I want to be able to upload music lists from other play lists formats besides Windows media player. I have a bunch of playlists in WinAmp and iTunes which I want to upload to my MSN Space but don't have the patience to transcribe. It is cool that we allow uploading Windows Media Player playlists but what about iTunes and WinAmp?

    5. I need more ways to find other MSN Spaces that I might be interested in. The recently updated spaces and newly created spaces widgets on the MSN Spaces homepage aren't cutting it for me. In additon, once that is fixed it would also be cool if it was made really simple to subscribe to interesting MSN Spaces in my RSS aggregator of choice using a one-click subscription mechanism.


    Categories: MSN

    It had to happen sooner or later. MyMSN now supports adding RSS or Atom 0.3 feeds as content sources for your home page. RSS/Atom content modules can be customized to show articles from up to 1 day old to up to 365 days old, display from up to 1 article to up to 30 articles and either show article summaries as a tool tip or inline following the article headline. 

    Below are screenshots of me testdriving the new features

    1. MyMSN homepage with option to add RSS feeds as content modules
    2. Adding Jeremy Zawodny's Atom feed to my MyMSN homepage
    3. Jeremy Zawodny's Atom feed and Robert Scoble's RSS feed as part of my homepage

    In addition the MyMSN folks also provide a handy way to create a link that enables people to add a feed to their MyMSN front page. The following link will add my RSS feed to your MyMSN front page


    Just as with other Web based aggregators there is also a handy button one can add to a website to enable one-click subscription to your RSS feed. This brings to a grand total of four buttons I need to add to my homepage; Add to MyMSN button, Add to MyYahoo button, Add to Bloglines button, and Add to Newsgator button.

    There is also an MSN RSS Directory that contains links to the RSS feeds produced by MSN properties such as MSNBC, MSN Autos and MSN Music.  

    I'm really glad to see this ship. When I was first hired onto MSN I was supposed to work with the MyMSN folks on this effort but eventually things changed. Even though I haven't been directly responsible for this feature I've been in touch with the folks driving it and I think it is totally killer that Microsoft has finally officially cast a stone in the XML syndication waters.

    Great work all around.


    Categories: MSN

    About two weeks ago there was an interview on C|Net with Bill Gates entitled Gates taking a seat in your den where he mentioned there had been 1 million MSN Spaces created in our first month. About a week later Mike Torres blogged that the number had risen to 1.5 million MSN Spaces created. In response to both of these statements about the growth of MSN Spaces I've seen a couple of detractors complaining about our adoption numbers. A prototypical example of the kind of these comments is the following post by Ed Brill entitled Gates: close to a million people on MSN Spaces. Ed Brill wrote

    I made this comment on Scoble's blog, here for y'all as well...
    Not to take this too far afield, but this is one of those fascinating examples of how MS is so good at staying "on message", but how bad it makes them look when that message lacks credibility. Those of us in the blogging community look at this "1 million" number with an extremely crooked eye, no offense to Mike Torres and his work. We all know someone who created an MSN Space only for the purpose of checking it out, and will never use it again. We know there are people who blog elsewhere that created Spaces because it's more free web space. We know that there are "people" who created more than one space, just like "people" have more than one Hotmail account. But BillG says "1 million" and the choir says "yea, verily."
    It's a fascinating culture to observe from the outside, and it often works. But when the claim is too far afield, it does nothing to help the corporate image and credibility. (In this case, neither did BillG's comment that "So no big problem; it's not that people have stopped using IE").

    I was quite surprised by this outburst given that quoting the number of unique user accounts is common practice for online services. In fact in a recent press release from Six Apart entitled Weblogging Software Leader Six Apart Acquires LiveJournal it is stated

    Six Apart, makers of the highly acclaimed Movable Type publishing platform and TypePad personal weblogging service, today announced that it has acquired Danga Interactive, Inc., the operators of the popular service LiveJournal, for an undisclosed amount of stock and cash. With the acquisition, Six Apart solidifies its position as the industry's recognized leader in weblogging software across all markets, and LiveJournal can continue its rapid growth trajectory under Six Apart's umbrella. As of today, the combined user base of both companies exceeds 6.5 million users, with thousands more added daily.

    The 6.5 million user number above is calculated from about 1 million TypePad accounts and about 5.5 million LiveJournal accounts. Of course, anyone with a web browser can go to the LiveJournal statistics page where it states they currently have about 2.5 million active blogs out of 5.7 million blogs. In fact, according to the statistics page over 1.5 million blogs have never been updated. This means over 20% of the blogs on LiveJournal didn't get past the first post.

    This isn't meant to single out LiveJournal especially since according to the Perseus blog survey from a few years ago, LiveJournal's retention numbers are the best in the industry. In fact, the Perseus blog survey estimates that about 66% of blogs are eventually abandoned. This is something that everyone on the MSN Spaces team is aware of and which Bill Gates himself alluded to in his interview that got Ed Brill so upset. Specifically Bill Gates said

    Well, actually I think the biggest blogging statistic I know, which really blew me away, is that we've got close to a million people setting up blogs (Web logs) with the Spaces capability that's connected up to Messenger. Now, with blogs, you always have to be careful. The decay rate of "I started and I stopped" or "I started and nobody visited" is fairly high, but as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has gotten more sophisticated and value-added search capabilities have come along, this thing is really maturing.

    Given that caveat I'm not really sure what more Ed Brill expects. Given that MSN Spaces has been in beta for less than 2 months we don't have meaningful 'active' user numbers yet although from our daily stats it seems we are at least in the same ratio as the rest of the industry.

    One of the unfortunate things about working for Microsoft is that no matter what we do we tend to get attacked. Eventually one learns to filter out useful feedback from the 'I hate Microsoft' crowd.


    Categories: MSN

    January 12, 2005
    @ 02:28 PM

    Its begun to spread around the blogosphere that MSN has added support for RSS to a couple more of its web offerings. Yesterday on the MSN Search weblog, Brady announced that there are now RSS Feeds for Search Results on the MSN Search beta site. The URL below returns an RSS feed containing the first 20 items for a search for 'rss bandit'.  


    Looking at the results returned using Rex Swain's HTTP Viewer it seems the results don't return the Last-Modified or ETag HTTP headers. This means every time the aggregator queries the feed it'll get an XML document downloaded even if nothing has changed in the search results since the last time the query was sent. So as not to waste bandwidth on the client side I'll probably specify that the MSN Search feeds should only be fetched once a day. One surprising thing is that sponsored links don't show up in the search results. I'd have expected that they would given that they are often relevant to the search as well.

    This is totally cool feature. The MSN Search folks are doing good things.


    Categories: MSN

    I've been playing around with the photo album in my MSN Space and have begun to get interested in online photo sharing. I've never been big on taking pictures. The last time I took pictures were on my vacation in Hawaii with the ex last year but I didn't even get them after the breakup. Before that it was Freaknik in 1998. However after playing around with the MSN Spaces photo album I feel like sharing some pics other than RSS Bandit screenshots as part of my space. I'd definitely appreciate any tips from folks out there on purchasing a digital camera.

    Once I was done geeking out about the MSN Spaces photo album I decided to check out what other hosted blogging services provided with regards to photo sharing. This is where I found out about Hello and BloggerBot. For those who aren't aware of it, Hello is an application for sharing images with people in real-time. A sort of instant messaging client with a photo slideshow feature. The BloggerBot feature of Hello allows you to post images to your blog hosted on Blogger.com from the Hello application. This integration makes sense since the company that created Hello was recently purchased by Google.

    During my next daily rap session with Mike about Spaces, I brought up the photo sharing features of Hello and its integration with Blogger. Mike pointed out that a similar user experience was already possible using MSN. This is where I first learned about MSN Premium. The MSN Premium service is an MSN offering that provides a bunch of value adds to browsing the Web for under $10 a month. It includes a firewall, anti-virus software, Encarta, Microsoft Money, Outlook plugins and a number of photo management features. I tried the service yesterday and so far I like it. The MSN Outlook Connector which allows you to access Hotmail from Outlook is quite nice.

    The photo sharing features of MSN Premium come in a couple of flavors. The first part is MSN Messenger Photo Swap which enables you to initiate a photo sharing session with any MSN Messenger user. This seems to be provide an equivalent experience to the real-time photo sharing features in Hello. Here is a screenshot of Mike Torres using Messenger Photo Swap to show me his vacation pics. The second major photo sharing feature of MSN premium is called Photo Email. With Photo Email you can send photo slideshows to people as regular HTML email. The email slide shows are a compressed version of a slide show of the full resolution images hosted on an automatically generated Web site which is linked to from the email. People can then view the full slide show then either download the images for printing or order prints online. Here is a screenshot of Photo Email I sent to myself of a modified version of RSS Bandit.

    The ActiveX slideshow control used to host the images on the automatically generated website is extremely similar to that used by MSN Spaces. It shouldn't be too hard to send some sort of MSN Spaces photo email to invite people to view the photo album on your Space. I should remember to add this as a feature request on the MSN Spaces Wiki

    Then there is still the question of how one sends a picture to their MSN Spaces blog as a blog posting the same way Hello allows one to do so using the BloggerBot. The answer is the email posting feature of MSN Spaces. Simply enable Mobile Publishing on Mobile Settings tab of the Settings page of the MSN Space. Enter an email address (e.g. your mobile phone email if you are a moblogger) and turn on “publish immediately.” Enter a secret word. You can now blog direct to that email address (e.g. carnage4life.blogthis@spaces.msn.com) with a photo attachment and/or text. The subject of the e-mail becomes the subject of the post.


    Categories: MSN

    C|Net News has an interview with Bill Gates entitled Gates taking a seat in your den. One of his most interesting answers from my perspective was his take on Microsoft and blogging. The question and his answer are excerpted below

    One of the big phenomena of the year has been Web logging. Has the growth surprised you?

    Well, actually I think the biggest blogging statistic I know, which really blew me away, is that we've got close to a million people setting up blogs with the Spaces capability that's connected up to Messenger.

    Now, with blogs, you always have to be careful. The decay rate of "I started and I stopped" or "I started and nobody visited" is fairly high, but as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has gotten more sophisticated and value-added search capabilities have come along, this thing is really maturing.

    And we've done some things in Japan and Korea that are unique blog experiments. The Spaces thing is a worldwide effort. It's a great phenomena, and it's sort of built on e-mail, and so we need to integrate more blogging capability into the e-mail world--and as we do the next generation of Outlook, you'll see that. We need to integrate it more into our SharePoint, which is our collaboration Office platform, and then, as I discussed, MSN is embracing it so that instead of thinking about, "OK, I go to one community to do photos, one community to do social networking, one community to do this," we say, "Hey," off of Messenger, which has got your buddy list already, then, "Let's let you do the photos and the social networking and everything--but starting in an integrated way off of Messenger."

    I also have been quite impressed by our signup rate, it has totally exceeded expectations. As BillG says above, we at MSN have been thinking a lot about the problems facing the existing social software landscape and how we can create the best place on the Web for people to communicate, share their experiences and interact with friends, family and strangers who may one day become friends or family. You guys haven't seen anything yet.

    It's going to be a fun ride.

    Categories: Mindless Link Propagation | MSN

    Mike Vernal and I are supposed to be writing a Bill Gates Think Week paper about Social Software. However given how busy both our schedules are this may turn out to be easier said than done. For this reason I've decided that I'll continue blogging my thoughts around this class of software that led me to switch job roles a few months ago.

    Today's entry is inspired by a blog post by Stowe Boyd entitled Mark Ranford on Open Standards for Social Tools. Stowe writes

    I would like to see -- as just one example -- a means to manage my personal social tools digital identity independently of the various services through which I apply and augment it. None of the social tools that I use today -- whether communication tools, coordinative tools, or community tools -- support anything like what should be in place. My eBay or Amazon reputation is not fungible; my slash dot karma cannot be tapped when I join the Always-On Network; and the degree of connectedness I have achieved through an explicit social networking solution like Spoke, LinkedIn, or ZeroDegrees or through a more implicit social media model as supported by blogging cannot interoperate in the other context in any productive way.

    We are forced to live in a thousand separate walled gardens; a thousand, disconnected worlds, where each has to be managed and maintained as if the other don't exist at all.

    As a result, I have gotten to the point where I am going to retreat from those worlds that are the least open, the least integrated to others, and the most self-centered. The costs of participating with dozens of tiny islands of socializing are just too high, and I have decided to extricate myself from them all.

    This is the biggest problem with the world of Social Software today. I wrote about this in my previous post on the topic entitled Social Software is the Platform of the Future. In that post I wrote

    So where do we begin? It seems prudent to provide my definition of social software so we are all on the same page. Social software is any software that enables people to interact with one another. To me there are five broad classes of social software. There is software that enables 

    1. Communication (IM, Email, SMS, etc)
    2. Experience Sharing (Blogs, Photo albums, shared link libraries such as del.icio.us)
    3. Discovery of Old and New Contacts (Classmates.com, online personals such as Match.com, social networking sites such as Friendster, etc)
    4. Relationship Management (Orkut, Friendster, etc)
    5. Collaborative or Competitive Gaming (MMORPGs, online versions of traditional games such as Chess & Checkers, team-based or free-for-all First Person Shooters, etc)

    Interacting with the aforementioned forms of software is the bulk of the computing experience for a large number of computer users especially the younger generation (teens and people in their early twenties). The major opportunity in this space is that no one has yet created a cohesive experience that ties together the five major classes of social software. Instead the space is currently fragmented. Google definitely realizes this opportunity and is aggressively pursuing entering these areas as is evidenced by their foray into GMail, Blogger, Orkut, Picasa, and most recently Google Groups 2. However Google has so far shown an inability to tie these together into a cohesive and thus "sticky" experience. On the other hand Yahoo! has been better at creating a more integrated experience and thus a better online one-stop-shop (aka portal) but has been cautious in venturing into the newer avenues in social software such as blogs or social networking. And then there's MSN and AOL.

    Since posting that entry I've changed jobs and now work at MSN delivering social software applications such as MSN Messenger, Hotmail and MSN Spaces. My new job role which has given me a more enlightened perspective on some of these problems. The issues Stowe has with the existing Social Software landscape will not be easily solved with industry standards, if at all. The reasons for this are both social and technical.

    The social problems are straightforward, there is little incentive for competing social software applications to make it easy for people to migrate away from their service. There is no business incentive for Friendster to make it easy to export your social network to Orkut or for eBay to make it easy to export your sales history and reputation to Yahoo! Auctions. Besides the obvious consequence of lock-in, another more subtle consequence is that the first mover advantage is very significant in the world of Social Software. New entrants into various social software markets need to either be extremely innovative (e.g. GMail) or bundle their offerings with other more popular services (e.g. Yahoo! Auctions) to gain any sort of popularity. Simply being cheaper or better [for some definition of better] does not cut it.

    The value of a user's social network and social information is the currency of a lot of online services. This is one of the reasons efforts like Microsoft's Hailstorm was shunned by vendors. The biggest value users get out of services like eBay and Amazon is that they remember information about the user such as how many successful sales they've made or their favorite kinds of music. Users return to such services because of the value of the social network around the service (Amazon reviews, eBay sales feedback, etc) and accumulated information about the user that they hold. Hailstorm aimed to place a middleman between the user and the vendors with Microsoft as the broker. Even though this might have turned out to be better for users, it was definitely bad for the various online vendors and they rejected the idea. The fact that Microsoft was untrusted within the software industry did not help. A similar course of events is  playing itself out with Microsoft's identity service, Passport. The current problems with sharing identities across multiple services have been decried by many, even Microsoft critics feel that Passport may have been better than the various walled gardens we have today.

    The technical problems are even more interesting. The fact of the matter is that we still don't know how to value social currency in any sort of objective way. Going back to Stowe's examples, exactly what should having high karma on Slashdot translate to besides the fact that you are a regular user of the site? Even the site administrators will tell you that your Slashdot karma is a meaningless value. How do you translate the fact that the various feeds for my weblog have 500 subscribers in Bloglines into some sort of reputation value when I review articles on Amazon? The fact is that there is no objective value for reputation, it is all context and situation specific. Even for similar applications, differences in how certain data is treated can make interoperability difficult.

    Given the aforementioned problems I suspect that for the immediate future walled gardens will be the status quo in the world of social software.

    As for MSN, we will continue to make the experience of sharing, connecting and interacting with friends and family as cohesive as possible across various MSN properties. One of the recent improvements we made in getting there were outlined by Mike Pacheloc in his post Your contacts and buddy lists are the same! where he wrote

    Over the last couple of years we took the challenge of integrating the MSN Messenger buddy lists and your MSN Address Book Contacts into one centralized place in MSN.  Although they were called Contacts in both MSN Messenger, Hotmail, and other places in MSN, only until now are they actually one list!  Some benefits of doing this:

    * You can now keep detailed information about your MSN Messenger buddies.  Not just the Display Name and Passport login, but all their email addresses, phone numbers, street addresses and other other information.
    * Creating a buddy in MSN Messenger means you immediately can send email to that buddy in Hotmail, because the information is already in the Hotmail Contacts list!
    * If you define a Group in Messenger, that Group is available in Hotmail.  You can email the Group immediately.  If you rename the Group in Hotmail, the change is immediately made in Messenger.

    These are a few of the benefits of the integration we did on the services platform.

    The benefits listed above do not do justice to the how fundamental the change has been. Basically, we've gotten rid of one of major complaints about online services; maintaining to many separate lists of people you know. One of the benefits of this is that you can utilize this master contact list across a number of scenarios outside of just one local application like an email application or an IM client. For example, in MSN Spaces we allow users to use their MSN Messenger allow list (people you've granted permission to contact you via IM) as a access control list for who can view your Space (blog, photo album, etc). There are a lot more interesting things you can do once the applications you use can tell "here are the people I know, these are the ones I trust, etc". We may not get there as an industry anytime soon but MSN users will be reaping the benefits of this integration in more and more ways as time progresses.

    Well, I have to go eat some breakfast, I'm starved...

    Happy New Year!!!


    Categories: MSN | Technology

    Tom has a post entitled MSN Messenger contact card problem where he writes

    When MSN Spaces first became available, I signed up for a test space, not knowing what I would finally end up with.  I liked it and thought it was cool that from MSN Messenger 7 beta, you could navigate to my Space from my contact card.

    I deleted my first Space and created this one, having decided I would maintain it and wanted a fresh start.  ("MrTom" as a Space URL was already taken, unfortunately...).  But know MSN Messenger still displays my original, deleted Space, and clicking the links takes you to a 'page unreachable' error.  Ugh.  Restarting messenger, changing my messenger profile, waiting a day or two didn't fix this.

    I first contacted messenger tech support and asked "how do I" fix this, and they gave me some nonsense about changing my display name.  They didn't understand my problem.  This is probably because "how do I" questions get routed to the most basic tech support pool.  Now I've contacted the "I need something fixed" pool, and gotten a good response.  They don't understand the issue, but they're looking into it and will let me know.  That's all I expect for the interactions between two beta products.  I'm crossing my fingers they can fix this without me deleting my site and recreating my passport. :)

    For now, only the most random of people might read my blog, rather than my messenger buddies.

    This problem typically occurs because MSN Messenger has information about the deleted Space cached. A tip I got from the MSN Messenger folks is to clear your browser cache and delete the contents of the folder C:\Documents and Settings\YourUserName\Application Data\Microsoft\MSN Messenger. This resolves the problem in most cases.

    It should be noted that deleting that folder deletes purchased MSN Messenger content such as emoticons, backgrounds and theme packs. If you've purchased content for MSN Messenger and are having the problems mentioned above do not use the above advice as a way to solve your problems. Instead, contact tech support for alternate solutions.


    Categories: MSN

    December 16, 2004
    @ 02:05 PM

    I recently started reading the Microsoft Monitor weblog written by Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research. His blog joins the likes those of Miguel De Icaza and Jon Udell who I can be assured will write a fairly insightful commentary on Microsoft technology announcements. The big difference is that Jon and Miguel occassionally write about Microsoft technologies while Joe Wilcox does so all the time.

    In a recent post entitled MSN's Rising Fortune  Joe Wilcox writes

    It's strange in a way how fortunes can change, even in a company as large as Microsoft. For years, the MSN folks would be the brunt of jokes, for living on "the red"--as in money-losing--side of the Microsoft campus. And MSN lost money for more than seven straight years. But, under the leadership of Yusuf Mehdi, fiscal 2004 brought the division to profitability. And to prominence.

    Consider that today Microsoft will hold a second teleconference on the MSN desktop search utility, this one for financial analysts. I can't recall the last time a MSN technology warranted a teleconference for Wall Street. Sure, search competition with Google is a reason. But today's call is another sign of MSN's growing importance to the broader Microsoft.

    While the client division whacks away at Windows security problems, chucks features from Longhorn and readies the next-generation operating system's delivery for not 2005 but 2006, MSN chugs out a barrage of new consumer products. Just in the last few months, MSN has unleashed testing versions of a music store (now officially launched), overhauled IM client, blogging service, Web search service and now desktop search utility. More MSN goodies are coming, but I can't discuss them right now.

    My only nitpick with his post is that he seems to have gotten the MSN organizational chart a little confused. Reading the list of Microsoft executives it states that Yusef Mehdi is the Corporate Vice President, MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform while David Cole is the Senior Vice President, MSN and Personal Services Group.

    MSN can be broadly divided into information services (aka IS) which is all the content related stuff like the MSN.com webpage, MSN Music as well as MSN Search and communication services (CS) which are all the communication related apps such as Hotmail, MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger. Yusef's runs the IS side of the house while Blake Irving is the Corporate Vice President, MSN Communication Services and Member Platform Group. David Cole sits at the top of the MSN pile.

    I just learned all this when I got here a couple of weeks ago. :)


    Categories: MSN

    Recently while reading Robert Scoble's blog I came across a link to the Wired article entitled The Long Tail. The article is focused on the entertainment media industry and how the Internet has fundamentally changed some aspects of it. The salient part of the article is the following excerpt

    To get a sense of our true taste, unfiltered by the economics of scarcity, look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service (owned by RealNetworks) that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks.

    Chart Rhapsody's monthly statistics and you get a "power law" demand curve that looks much like any record store's, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks, which is about the amount of the fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the average real-world record store. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero - either they don't carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store.

    The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody's top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it's just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.

    This is the Long Tail.

    Given the recent launch of MSN Spaces I've been thinking about the lesson of the Long Tail in connection with blogging and blogging software. A lot of the hype and spilled ink about blogging has focused on the "high end" of the curve or the so-called A-list of blogging. The most recent being the Newsweek article entitled The Alpha Bloggers.

    The most notable explanation of this phenomena has been Clay Shirky's Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality which begins with

    A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.

    Prior to recent theoretical work on social networks, the usual explanations invoked individual behaviors: some members of the community had sold out, the spirit of the early days was being diluted by the newcomers, et cetera. We now know that these explanations are wrong, or at least beside the point. What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.

    In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.

    Although a lot of the meta-discussion about blogging either by the media or by other bloggers tends to focus on the so-called A-list there is the Long Tail to consider. Many research studies on blogging tend to indicate that a large number of weblogs have a readership of 10 people or less. To most bloggers, a weblog is a way to share their lives and experiences with their friends, family and colleagues not a way to become the next Robert Scoble or Doc Searles.  

    When MSN Spaces was launched there was some negative feedback from certain popular bloggers most notably from Robert Scoble in his post MSN Spaces isn't the blogging service for me complaining that the service did not have enough features aimed at power bloggers. Mike Torres had a good explanation of our feelings on these sentiments in his post Is MSN Spaces for everyone?  where he wrote

    So, who do I want to see using MSN Spaces?  I want my mom and dad to use Spaces.  I want my sister to have a space for her friends.  I want my in-laws to use Spaces to share holiday photos with all of us privately using Messenger-only access.  I want my old classmates to find me via my Space (this has already happened twice in two days.)  I want the (appx) 150 million MSN Messenger users to feel as if they have a place to express their feelings to the 10-15 people they care most about.  I want the (appx) 187 million Hotmail users to view Spaces as yet another way to keep in touch with loved ones for free.  I want college kids to post pictures of their classmates falling asleep in class from their mobile phones, and instantly have all their friends alerted in MSN Messenger - even if they are in another country.  I want people to use Spaces in ways we hadn't even thought of (note: not surprisingly, this is also already happening.)

    That was our bar - real people, real experiences.  And we are ecstatic with the progress we have made.  People are excited about the level of integration into MSN Messenger with real-time notification and contact cards.  People are excited that we support RSS 2.0 and Trackbacks.  People are excited about the fact that MSN employees are finally blogging (we were before, we just didn't get linked to!) and engaging in an open discussion with our users. 

    This is exactly how I feel. I've been interested in blogging and XML syndication because I've seen it as a way for people such as myself who are disconnected from friends and family to keep in touch. I want my mom to keep up to date with what's going on in my life by reading my blog. I want my friends from high school reading [some parts of] my blog. I want my kid sister blogging.

    This means the prioritization of features that favor A-list and geek bloggers was lower than those that we felt and still feel make it easier for everyone to start blogging instead of just the alpha geeks and early adopters. As we continue to improve the service the questions we tend to ask ourselves are "Would this feature be useful to my mom, my spouse or my friends?" as opposed to "I wonder whether Robert Scoble or Doc Searles would like this feature?". I think we are on the right track and a majority of the feedback we've gotten as well as our sign up numbers seem to bear that out.

    Remember the lesson of the long tail...don't just focus on the popular.


    Categories: MSN

    December 14, 2004
    @ 05:48 AM

    I noticed that the Many2Many weblog on social software has an entry entitled Ballmer Gets Blogging Religion which contains a review of MSN Spaces by Liz Lawley. She wrote

    I set up an account there today (and was required to use my Microsoft Passport, which didn’t thrill me). My first impression was generally positive. The blogs support trackbacks, a notable omission in Blogger. They also have RSS feeds, which is good, but no Atom, which is disappointing. The built-in photo album is a nice touch, though it doesn’t hold a candle to Flickr. There are a range of themes to choose from, some of which are quite lovely. However, the site warns me that without Internet Explorer (for the PC, natch), I can’t take advantage of the full range of customization options. (To their credit, the site works well in Firefox on my Mac.)

    The response time on the server is pretty sluggish this evening, which is a bit of a concern. And in general, I’m always nervous about having my blog posts hosted on a central service that I don’t control—I like having my text on a server that I can back up whenever I’d like. Not to mention that I feel pretty strongly about having my blog at my own domain name, free of ties to specific hosting services or tools.

    All in all, I found Spaces to be a very credible and more fully-featured alternative to Blogger for users who want to set up a blog quickly and easily, and don’t want to spend money doing so (or learn a lot of technical skills to accomplish it). From accounts I’ve been reading lately, Blogger has been increasingly slow and unreliable—not ideal qualities at any time, but particularly not when a big-time competitor has just unleashed an alternative.

    I was talking to Mike this afternoon and we were flattered by the feedback we got from Liz's review. There are a number of issues that Liz raises that I felt I should comment on.

    The first point of clarification is about not supporting Atom feeds. The explanation for why MSN Spaces supports RSS 2.0 and not RSS 1.0 or Atom 0.3 is described in my post from several months ago entitled Mr. Safe's Guide to the RSS vs. Atom debate. Basically RSS 2.0 is the widest supported and most straightforward syndication format. Also there is no technical reason to support multiple syndication formats especially since it is potentially confusing to end users.

    The built-in photo album may not be as powerful as an entire site focused on photo sharing such as Flickr or deviantART but I think it does a good job of allowing people to share photos in a simple, straightforward manner while allowing a richer expressivity than is currently provided by any of the major hosted blogging providers. The MSN Spaces team is always open to feedback on how to improve the service and I'm particularly curious as to what improvements or features others would like to see in the realm of photo sharing.

    The performance issues Liz encountered on the days she tried the site have since been fixed. It was a combination of bad luck [hardware problems on some key servers] and unanticipated load in certain scenarios. Our GPM is fond of pointing out that no amount of stress testing can accurately potray actual usage of a service :)

    Our team is paying attention to the various performance issues and we have tackled a number of the causes of sluggishness in the site. Any problems should be reported to through the feedback form on the site or can even be sent to me directly if necessary.  However I can't promise that I'll get back to every email immediately.

    Thanks for the excellent feedback Liz.


    Categories: MSN

    It seems December is a good month for new releases from MSN. From Microsoft PressPass we learn Microsoft Introduces MSN Toolbar Suite Beta With Desktop Search , specifically

    Microsoft Corp. today introduced a beta version of its new MSN® Toolbar Suite...The free suite of MSN search tools, available now in the United States at http://beta.toolbar.msn.com, is the latest development in a comprehensive MSN Search service that helps consumers more quickly find precisely what they are looking for and gives them more control over their search experience. The new MSN Toolbar Suite includes an updated version of the popular MSN Toolbar for Microsoft® Internet Explorer and new toolbars that are conveniently accessible through Windows and Microsoft Office Outlook®. The new toolbars include the MSN Deskbar for the Windows desktop, MSN Toolbar for Microsoft Office Outlook and MSN Toolbar for Microsoft Windows Explorer.

    Being the MSN geek I am I hightailed it to http://beta.toolbar.msn.com to try out the the new Toolbar suite. So far the only part that has held my interest is the MSN Toolbar for Outlook which looks like a decent replacement for LookOut. The desktop search doesn't really interest me because I don't lose files on my hard drive and the Internet Explorer toolbar adds just a tad bit of clutter to IE (see below for screenshot). I use the Yahoo! toolbar all the time since it has my bookmarks and links to a lot of Yahoo! services I use (Maps, Movies, Mail, Finance, etc). I use the Google toolbar for search. The MSN toolbar doesn't really give me anything I want enough to lose the screen real estate although the quick links to MSN Spaces are nice. If you haven't installed any of the other toolbars then the MSN toolbar is as good as any of he others since the core functionality is the same but it doesn't have enough to get someone like me who's already using two IE add-in toolbars to add a third.

    I also dislike the fact that it refused to install on my Windows 2003 machine.


    Categories: MSN

    December 6, 2004
    @ 04:20 PM

    Watching the various kinds of feedback about MSN Spaces has been illuminating. You have the geeks posting about not having enough power user features such as Robert Scoble in his post MSN Spaces isn't the blogging service for me, there are the average non-technical users who've been giving us great feedback about the sites usability and then there are the analysts who've clued in to the social software revolution happening at MSN.

    It starts with Joe Wilcox (of Jupiter Research) in his post MSN Spaces, First Take who writes

    The data JupiterResearch has on blogging suggests the large body of blogs aren't widely read--and for good reason, I figure. The interest is limited. So, Jane is struggling with her boyfriend Tarzan and blogs about her travails. But, maybe, only some friends follow the breakup blog. To most people, it's just another romance gone bad, and there are plenty of those to be found.

    So MSN Spaces takes a different approach, by extending existing assets to create community. For starters, public profiles, such as for MSN Messenger or MSN Chat, tie into the individual's blogspace. Additionally, Microsoft uses MSN Messenger to create presence and even limit access. For example, blogspace access can be limited to people on the MSN Messenger buddy list. That's a smart use of IM presence. Similarly, IM buddies are notified when a user has updated his or her MSN Spaces blogsite.

    Additionally, Microsoft adds a wall of protection for people that might want to blog for some folks but not the whole World Wide Web. Users can restrict blogspace access to people they choose from their MSN address book. Additionally, by default, trackbacks to blogspace content is restricted to other MSN Spaces sites. The user can open access to the entire Web or restrict trackbacks altogether. For people looking to blog for a community of friends or family, the privacy protection makes sense. As a parent, I feel uneasy about posting pics of my daughter in a blog photo album for the entire world to see. MSN Spaces would create a safe haven for just the people I would want to see the pictures.

    In a follow-up blog, I'll look at some of the other MSN Spaces community-oriented features.

    When I look at Microsoft's first foray into blogging, I see two development undercurrents: An admirabe effort to bring blogging to the masses and to not bring those blogs to the masses but their community of friends and family most likely to read the content.

    Unsurprisingly, this same undercurrent was noted in the blog post entitled MSN Spaces will make blogs communication tools by Charlene Li of Forrester Research who wrote

    MSN Spaces is very full featured users can add posts from cell phones as well as via email. Drag-and-drop layout design and pre-fabbed templates make creating a custom look and feel a cinch. A couple of other innovations:

    + Permissions are linked into MSN Messenger and MSN Address books. Only .NET Passport email addresses are accepted.

    + Integration with MSN Photos and MSN Music to upload photo albums and playlists easily. Moreover, users can click on a playlist and sample or purchase the song or album.

    + Put Spaces content elsewhere on MSN. MSN Hotmail and Messenger have a new feature called Contact Cards that will take the latest post or photo added to your Space and displays it next to your contact information. When you update your Space, your name changes its like indicating the presence of new content, rather than your actual presence.

    Notice a trend here? Theres heavy integration of Spaces into the whole MSN communication suite of email and instant messaging. I think this is very smart, especially as MSN hopes to attract a new audience group to blogging. The next wave of bloggers is going to look very different from todays blogger their motivation will be on sharing experiences rather than having a place for their ideas and opinions.

    The feedback isn't all rosy. In followup posts Joe Wilcox states that the poor performance (our team has been working overtime on resolving various issues here and the site is a lot better than when he wrote the post), its preference for for users browsing with Internet Explorer and the hubbub around content moderation will keep MSN Spaces from becoming a challenge to existing players in this area. He isn't the only one to complain about the IE specific features of MSN Spaces, Adam Bosworth also complained about this on his MSN Space (Yes, Adam Bosworth of Google has an MSN Space).


    We're listening to all this feedback and would like to thank everyone who's acknowledging our innovations in this area.


    Categories: MSN

    December 6, 2004
    @ 03:57 PM

    A lot of people who've heard about MSN Spaces have also seen or heard about the the MSN Spaces: seven dirty blogs post on Boing Boing. In fact that post is so popular it's the first result currently returned by searching Google for 'MSN Spaces', this search also results in an ad for SixApart's TypePad blog hosting service which is also interesting but something I'll post about another day.

    Mike Connelly (the Group Program Manager of the Spaces team) has a post entitled Comments on Content Moderation  where he writes

    One of our main goals for Spaces was to create a platform for people to share their thoughts and feelings with their friends and the outside world.  However, we wanted to make Spaces usable by not only the people who are blogging today, but also be approachable by the general internet user, who might not have heard of blogging previously, or been given an opportunity to try it out.

    Unfortunately, whenever you create an open platform for people to say whatever they want, and open it up to the wide world (14 languages, in 26 different markets), there is always a handful of people who spoil the party, and post a bunch of inappropriate (and in some cases illegal) stuff. And to make matters worse, what exactly is deemed “appropriate” or not is very subjective, not only from person to person, but from country to country.

    So, we need to do what we can to make our platform available for people to use in the way they like, but we want to keep wildly inappropriate stuff outside of public forums.
    However, there is 1% left over.  Not everyone on the internet subscribes to the same "netiquette" that some of us who have been around for awhile know and understand. So, we do one proactive thing, to make the world a little less bumpy. We block a set of specific words from being used in 3 areas: the url you select, the title of your Space, and the title of your blog entry. These three fields are reused and displayed in a variety of areas, like search results, so we thought it would be a little thing we could do to cut down on the obvious cases that would most easily offend.

    As part of trying to get Spaces to be something that is widely adopted by the general population as opposed to a small subset of society (most estimates are that less than 1% of Americans have weblogs and even at Microsoft where we are all mostly completely comfortable online there are about 3% of the employees blogging) the decision was made to discourage the usage of inappropriate language in parts of the space that would be reused outside the context of the space. One can use whatever language they want in posts, comments, and their various lists. However post titles, blog titles and URLs can't contain words certain "inappropriate" words [for some definition of inappropriate].

    So far although I've seen lots of posts deriding the simplistic nature of the profanity filter [of course, every profanity filter I've seen can be tricked or causes a large number of false positives] I've not seen many posts from existing or potential users of Spaces about how they feel about this. What are your thoughts?  


    Categories: MSN

    December 5, 2004
    @ 12:23 AM

    There have been some questions from users of MSN Spaces regarding deleted Spaces which I'll try to answer with this post.  The basic problem is that a user deletes a Space (e.g. I delete http://spaces.msn.com/members/carnage4life)  and then either tries to recreate a Space with the same name or someone else tries to a create a Space with the same name but gets an error message saying the Space is unavailable.

    This is due to a safeguard we out into place so that a user doesn't delete a Space and then someone else reuses the name after a short period of time leading to potential confusion by readers of the Space. For example, what happens if I delete  http://spaces.msn.com/members/carnage4life and a totally different person person picks it up a few hours later? A lot of people coming to that URL the next day will assume it is still me which would lead to confusion.

    For this reason, the names of deleted Spaces are not recycled into the system for at least 60 days. This value is subject to change as we continue to monitor the usage patterns of Spaces and gather customer feedback.


    Categories: MSN

    December 3, 2004
    @ 06:00 PM

    Steve Hooker has a post entitled Microsoft's Spaces: are they blogs?  where he writes

    Certainly, they are blogs, at least for Joe Sixpack, but why did they call them 'Spaces'? My guess is that they're going to take them deeper into Microsoft land, and the term 'blog' won't fit later. Already they're locked into MS's instant message app, Messager and their authentication system Passport.

    I'm unclear as to why Steve calls the requirement of having a user account to create a Space "lock in" especially since every blog hosting service requires some form of user account be it Xanga, LiveJournal, TypePad, or Blogger. MSN Spaces has the advantage that you can use this same account to access multiple MSN services including MSN Messenger. This is no different than the fact that I have a single login to access all of Yahoo's services.

    As to why they are called "spaces" as opposed to "blogs" it is because we believe there is more to sharing one's experiences online than your online journal. People want to share their thoughts, their favorite music, their favorite books, pictures of their loved ones and so on. It isn't just  posting your thoughts and experiences in the reverse chronological order which is what typically defines a "weblog". It's supposed to be a person's personal space online which was the original vision of personal publishing on the Web which spawned the personal homepage revolution a couple of years ago. Weblogs are the next iteration of that vision and we expect MSN Spaces to be the refinement of that iteration.


    Categories: MSN

    I've seen a number of people ask if MSN Spaces supports any web service APIs such as the Blogger API or MetaWeblog API that allow users to post to their blog from applications such as MarsEdit, BlogJet and w:bloggar.  This question has been asked in blog posts by a number of people including Robert Scoble, Don Smith and Roland Tanglao. Like every question there's a short answer and a long answer.

    Short Answer: There is currently no support for any web service APIs for managing ones Space. We are investigating the feasibility of supporting a web service API which enables our users to manage their Space while not having to compromise on security which unfortunately is currently the practice in the blogging world.  

    Long Answer: I listed the problems with the current crop of blog posting APIs such as the Blogger API and MetaWeblog API  in my post from a year and a half ago What's Wrong with the MetaWeblog API? . The main issues for us working on MSN Spaces are  

    1. Security: The MetaWeblog API has no concept of security. Passwords are sent in plaintext as parameters to XML-RPC functions (i.e. they are sent in plain text on the wire as part of the XML message).
    2. Limited Functionality: The MetaWeblog API only allows one to either post and edit blog entries, fetch information about a specific user or change the website template. This is a drop in the bucket considering all the things one would like to do with a weblog engine which can be supported by the engine.

    The security issue is a big problem and we do not plan to compromise on it. Although it may be satisfactory for certain services to exchange user's passwords in plain text where they can be sniffed by malicious third parties we don't want the Passport accounts of our user's exposed in such an insecure manner. This basically means we can't plug into the ecosystem of tools and services built around blog posting APIs today.  

    Already the current beta version of MSN Spaces has more functionality than is exposed by APIs such as the MetaWeblog API. For example, it would be difficult to imagine how one would manage their music list with just that API. Add to that the fact that we are planning to add more features in future versions that also have no useful analog in that API.

    I plan to present 3 choices to folks at work on what we should do in this regard. The choices I see in order of preference would be

    1. Support Blogger/MetaWeblog API over HTTPS/SSL: This would involve the most minimal change to various blog posting tools to support MSN Spaces yet would give our users the security they desire. Unfortunately it doesn't solve the problem that these APIs don't expose all the functionality of an MSN Space.
    2. Support an MSN Spaces specific API over HTTPS/SSL:  This would allow us to build an API specifc to our service such as has been done with the MovableType API or the LiveJournal API . The downside is that it would mean developers would have to do a lot more work to suupport our service but would expose richer functionality than if we just supported the Blogger/Metaweblog APIs. This would lead to less tool support but I suspect the most popular tools would support our API. 
    3. Support the Atom API over HTTPS/SSL: The IETF's Atom Working Group is working on a new common  API for blog posting which they hope will replace the aforementioned blog posting APIs. I have questions about their delivery timeframe given that its been over a year and a half since Sam Ruby kicked of the Atom effort  and although their schedule has them shipping the spec in a few months they are still having debates on fundamentals such as whether the Atom protocol should be based on WebDAV or not. Having worked on the XML team at Microsoft and watching I have seen what happened when we spent years working on technologies like XInclude & XQuery which are in active discussion only for them to drag out so long that they couldn't fit in our ship schedule so we cut them thus wasting the effort.  Secondly, still has the problem that it won't expose all the functionality of an MSN Space. I don't have much faith in this option but have put it on the list for completeness.

    I should note that there is also the question of whether it makes business sense to do support blog posting APIs. Mike will be the one making the business case pitch to folks over here while I'll be making the technical pitches. It would be interesting to know what percentage of users actually use a rich client versus using the Web interface for editing their blogs in existing systems.

    Anyway, your thoughts and feedback are welcome. I'd especially love to hear from authors of blog posting tools.  


    Categories: MSN

    By now it's common knowledge that MSN Spaces became widely available to the general public today. As someone who's currently working on the next iteration of Spaces I've already had time to excercise the existing realease and I've got to day I like it a lot. Below is the list of top 5 things I like about Spaces

    1. Integrated Photo Album: If you visit Carnage4Life's Space you don't just get to see my blog but also a slideshow of various RSS Bandit screenshots I uploaded a few days ago.

    2. Integrated Music Lists:  I get to share my taste in music via music lists where each song is hyperlinked to search MSN Music so one can hear a sample of the music I like. For lazy people like me you can just upload a Windows Media player playlist to create a music list.

    3. MSN Messenger Integration: Words don't do it justice. Here's a screenshot of me viewing Mike Torres' contact card.  Here's a screenshot of my contact card. Yes, the rumors were right. You can post to your blog directly from MSN Messenger.

    4. Access Control: One can specify the level of access they want for their blog. You can choose to make a blog public, private or only accessible by people on your MSN Messenger Allow List. Your Allow List is a list of everyone who you've allowed to see your online presence and IM you via MSN Messenger. This should be everybody on your buddy list and everyone who's asked to put you on their buddy list and you've accepted. This allows you to create a blog that is only accessible by people in your immediate circle of friends and family which for most people are the only ones you want reading your blog or viewing your photos .

      It should be noted that in a number of markets the permissions on your Space default to "Only allow people in my MSN Messenger Allow List view my Space". So it is best to check http://spaces.msn.com/members/[yourblogname]/PermissionSettings.aspx and ensure that you have specified the level of access control you are comfortable with.

    5. The Price: It's free. Completely and utterly free of charge.  


    Categories: MSN

    December 2, 2004
    @ 01:20 AM

    According to the Microsoft press release MSN Introduces New Communication Service That Enables Blogging, Picture Sharing and More  we find out

    MSN Spaces: More Than a Blog

    The MSN Spaces beta version is a free service available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide. MSN Spaces was designed to make it easy for consumers to create and maintain a personal Web site, bringing the power and benefits of blogging to millions of Internet users, regardless of their level of technical expertise. More than a blogging tool, MSN Spaces is a dynamic online scrapbook where consumers can share photo albums, personal music lists and more. And more than an ordinary personal Web site, through seamless integration with MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail, MSN Spaces will automatically notify online contacts when a person's Space has been updated so his or her online community knows when it is time to pay a visit. People can sign up for MSN Spaces through MSN Messenger or by going to http://spaces.msn.com. Key features of the service include the following:

    • Control your Space. Consumers can choose the people who visit their Space through three levels of permissions: public, MSN Messenger contacts only or private.
    • Use pictures and music to say more. MSN Spaces enable consumers to easily display their pictures via a photo album slide show. Consumers can easily share playlists through their Space with Microsoft® Windows Media® technologies. With just two clicks, people can sample or purchase a song on someone's playlist through MSN Music**.
    • Create an extension of yourself. Contact Cards - a new addition to MSN Messenger and Hotmail - are windows into a consumer's Space, mirroring its look and the most recent information posted. MSN Spaces also supports RSS, so consumers can publish their Space to others by way of RSS viewers and aggregators - including My MSN, coming soon.
    • Post remote updates. Consumers can post updates to their Space remotely via e-mail or a mobile phone.
    • Make it your own. Fifteen custom backgrounds and five layout templates give consumers a way to quickly customize and personalize their Space.

    MSN Messenger: More Expressive Than Ever

    Available in 26 languages, the public beta release of MSN Messenger builds on the popular IM service which supports more than 145 million active users worldwide each month, and offers consumers new ways to express themselves online and personalize their instant messaging experience. Available for download at http://messenger.msn.com/beta, the beta release of MSN Messenger will give consumers a taste of what's to come with the final release, expected next year. Features in the MSN Messenger 7.0 beta enable consumers to do the following:

    • Get attention. Consumers can reach out to friends and family by sending a "Nudge," an alert that shakes the contact's conversation window with an audible notification, or a "Wink," animated pictures that include sound and that can be virtually "thrown" onto the screen of a contact's Internet message (IM) window. New emoticons, backgrounds and theme packs from Microsoft Corp., including advertiser-sponsored packs such as for "Halo® 2",* round out the experience.
    • Stay connected. Through integration with MSN Messenger, consumers can automatically let their contacts know that they have updated their MSN Space. The MSN Messenger Contact icon "gleams" when an update is made, notifying others to visit the Space via the Contact Card.
    • Access the Web anywhere. MSN Web Messenger, shipping in 25 markets and 15 languages, enables consumers to access their MSN Messenger account and contacts from virtually any PC with an Internet connection.
    • Choose your online status. The beta release of MSN Messenger gives consumers more control over how they're seen online by enabling them to choose their availability status before logging into Messenger.

    MSN Hotmail: Bringing It All Together

    MSN Hotmail, the largest free Web e-mail system in the world with more than 187 million active accounts, rounds out the trio of free, integrated communication services. MSN Hotmail recently introduced 250MB inboxes to new consumers in nine markets and launched a photo upload tool for all consumers to make it easier for them to share pictures online. The beta versions of MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger help give consumers even more ways to communicate and share through MSN Hotmail, including these:

    • View online status anywhere. Through integration between MSN Hotmail and MSN Web Messenger, in select markets, consumers are able to see Messenger availability status even on PCs that don't have MSN Messenger client software.
    • Learn more about Contacts. MSN Hotmail consumers who have an MSN Spaces site will have a Contact Card visible in the Hotmail address book, providing friends, family and other online contacts with one-click access to their Spaces site.

    Now that we've finally shipped I'll start blogging more about what we're doing at MSN with regards to Spaces et al. You might also want to check out my blog on MSN Spaces at http://spaces.msn.com/members/carnage4life


    Categories: MSN

    I just noticed the eWeek article MSN Hotmail Nears Storage Finish Line which reports

    Microsoft Corp.'s Internet division on Thursday started offering 250 MB of storage to new users of free Hotmail accounts in the United States and eight other countries. New accounts previously received 2MB of storage. As for current Hotmail users, the majority has gained the added storage and the rest will be upgraded over the next few weeks, said Brooke Richardson, MSN lead product manager. Hotmail has about 187 million customers worldwide.
    New Hotmail users will get the storage in two steps. They first will receive 25MB of e-mail storage as MSN verifies that the accounts are for legitimate senders of e-mail and not spammers, Richardson said. After 30 days, they will gain the full 250MB of storage.

    The increased storage also comes with an increase in the maximum attachment size to 10MB for free accounts.

    A new photo-sharing feature in Hotmail lets users browse thumbnails of digital images and include multiple photos in an e-mail with one click, Richardson said. The feature also compressed the image files.

    The article doesn't mention the eight other countries where the large Hotmail inbox feature has been deployed, they are the U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

    I am curious as to how much of a deterrent the 30 day waiting period will be to spammers. You'd think that using CAPTCHA technologies to prevent automated sign ups would get rid of most spammers but it seems like they are still a problem.


    Categories: Mindless Link Propagation | MSN

    This morning I tried out the MSN Search Beta and was suitably impressed. There were some availability issues last night which led some to proclaim the new MSN search: an unmitigated disaster. However today things are running fine.

    I tried the following queries on both services and got some interesting results

    1. "dare obasanjo"

      Google Result Description
      http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/ My current personal weblog
      http://www.kuro5hin.org/user/Carnage4Life/diary My former personal weblog
      http://blogs.msdn.com/dareobasanjo My current work-related weblog
      http://www.xml.com/pub/au/142 My author page on XML.com
      http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/dnexxml/html/xml01202003.asp The most popular article from my Extreme XML column on MSDN

      MSN Search (beta) Result Description
      http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/ My current personal weblog
      http://blogs.msdn.com/dareobasanjo My current work-related weblog
      http://www.xml.com/pub/au/142 My author page on XML.com
      http://www.rssbandit.org/ow.asp?DareObasanjo My personal page on the RSS Bandit wiki
      http://www.afriguru.com/2004/dare-obasanjo.html A blog post that refers to me as a Nigerian XML expert

    2. "rss bandit" OR rssbandit

      Google Result Description
      http://www.rssbandit.org/ The RSS Bandit webpage
      http://www.gotdotnet.com/Community/Workspaces/Workspace.aspx?id=cb8d3173-9f65-46fe-bf17-122e3703bb00 The former RSS Bandit project page on GotDotNet Workspaces
      http://sourceforge.net/projects/rssbandit The current RSS Bandit project page on SourceForge
      http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2003/5/16/135349/207 A post in my former blog about RSS Bandit
      http://weblogs.asp.net/rosherove/archive/2004/01/04/47392.aspx A review of RSS Bandit by Roy Osherove

      MSN Search (beta) Result Description
      http://www.rssbandit.org/ The RSS Bandit webpage
      http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnexxml/html/xml02172003.asp The first article I wrote about RSS Bandit on MSDN
      http://www.marketingwithrss.com/rss-bandit-or-rssbandit/ SPAM
      http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/CategoryView.aspx?category=RSS%20Bandit Posts from the RSS Bandit category of my current weblog
      http://directory.google.com/Top/Reference/Libraries/Library_and_Information_Science/Technical_Services/Cataloguing/Metadata/RDF/Applications/RSS/News_Readers/ A catalog of RSS readers

    The results from MSN Search were pertinent and in some cases moreso than the Google ones. Although MSN Search did allow a spam entry to make it into the top 5 results it also returned a link to all the RSS Bandit related posts on my blog which Google didn't pick up. Well, it doesn't look so inconceivable anymore that Microsoft will give Google a run for their money.

    Then just wait until you see launch version of MSN Spaces and compare it to Blogger (although I'd prefer comparisons to LiveJournal or TypePad). The next few years are going to be fun.


    Categories: MSN

    November 11, 2004
    @ 03:54 PM

    Yesterday I literally stopped being the face of XML at Microsoft. From now on if you go to http://www.microsoft.com/xml or http://msdn.microsoft.com/xml you won't see my work blog or my picture welcoming you to the XML Developer Center at MSDN. It's a particularly bittersweet experience. I fought with MSDN for about a year and a half to get that site launched and for a while I felt that it was my baby. The new owner of the site, Irwin, is a great guy and I'm sure he'll do excellent things with it.

    Speaking of transitions, I'm still trying to fit in at MSN. It's interesting going from being extremely knowledgeable about all the technologies I'm responsible for to returning blank stares when asked about some aspect of a spec I now own. Hopefully I'll have some downtime at next week's XML 2004 conference to bone up on the various specs about our backend infrastructure so I don't seem so clueless at the next feature costing meeting. :)

    So far the new job's been awesome. Great people and the features I'm working on are killer. Best of all I not only get to deliver features for MSN Spaces but also Hotmail, MSN Messenger and even MyMSN. Of course, this means I attend lots and lots of cross-team meetings. Yay, fun...


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | MSN