One of the things I’ve noticed while working on Windows Live is that it helps to think about communications tools such as email, IM and social media sites as being parts of a continuum as opposed to being rigidly defined product categories. They are all ways we share our thoughts, ideas and interesting things we’ve online with others where the main difference is really how public or private the communication channel is and how synchronous we want the conversation to be. Once you start looking at communications tools this way it starts opening the door to asking how we can bring some of these experiences closer together.

Over on the Windows Live blog there have been a number of good blog posts on this topic. Piero Sierra wrote in the blog post Sharing 2.0

Our data is everywhere

People store their stuff across the web, their PCs and their mobile phones, leading to fragmented access and fragmented sharing. Take the example of photo-sharing. A study we ran in September 2009 showed that people stored their photos across up to 15 different types of technologies. Here are the major ones:

Graph illustrating where we store our photos

It would be nice, not only to have everything in one location, but also to be able to access all this stuff and share from wherever you may be, especially from mobile phones and PCs that you may not own.

We're putting it all out there

It seems like our appetite for using technology to connect with each other is bottomless, whether it be directed communications with the people we love (email, IM), sharing with groups of friends (email, social networking), or full-on public broadcasting (blogs, micro-blogs, photo & video dedicated sites, etc.)

Whenever a new medium emerges, it doesn’t replace the previous ones – it adds to it. That is, people today are sending email and IM and updating their status on social networks and uploading photos everywhere. They're sharing their thoughts and their memories to stay in touch with each other. Sharing and consuming shared data has become the primary internet activity for many of our customers, right up there with shopping and reading news.

With regards to email and sharing specifically, there’s another good blog post on this topic by Dick Craddock titled Email in a World of Social Networking where he wrote

Recently, we surveyed 2,000 people in the US, where nearly 10 million additional people have started to use Hotmail actively over the last year. Our goal was to refresh our understanding of how people use their personal email accounts, particularly in this day of heavy usage of social networks for communications. We surveyed people who use AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail – 500 people for each service. Here’s a bit of what they shared with us.

Graphic comparing communication choices

  • You’re still very attached to your personal email accounts. We asked the survey group which communication method they would choose if they were allowed to keep only one to communicate with friends and family. Of the choices – email, texting, IM, or the ability to post to their favorite social network – most people told us they’d choose email over all of the other communication methods and tools.     
  • Email is today’s tool of choice for managing and sharing documents, interacting with businesses, tracking online activities, receiving and responding to social networking alerts, communicating with friends and family, dating, and so on. Your inbox is your job search strategy room, your filing cabinet, your to-do list, and your social center
  • Email is your online photo album, too. People send and receive over 1.5 billion photos each month on Hotmail alone, and email is still the most popular way to share photos.

One of the things that became clear from us from this data is that there’s a good overlap in the kinds of activities that go on in email and what we see in social networks. Some of your friends share photos with you by posting them to Flickr while others send emails with photos as attachments. Sometimes you find out about new comments on photos you posted to Facebook by going to and other times you discover this because you got a notification email. Either way, there’s a lot of overlap in the actual problem being solved although the technology may differ.

So what are we doing to simplify things in Windows Live’s Wave 4 release? Glad you asked. Smile 

Emails with Photo Attachments and Messenger Social

One of the goals we set out with for Wave 4 was to ensure that people should be able to keep up with what their friends are sharing with them no matter where their friends are. This is the motivation behind the integrations we’ve done with popular social networks like MySpace and Facebook. However as you can tell from the blog posts mentioned above, email is also an important way for your friends to share updates and media with you. What we’ve done in this release is to bring in emails that are used for sharing photos from your contacts into the Messenger Social feed across all experiences where it is displayed.

On the web:

On the desktop:


Emails from your Social Networks and Messenger Social

The goal of the Messenger Social feed is to keep you up to date on what your friends are doing. One of the things your friends do is comment on the stuff you post on various social networks. Invariably you get a mail about these comments and we thought to ourselves that these email updates are just as valid to show in your feed as the comments attached to people’s updates that are typically in the feed. Thanks to diligent work of the Hotmail folks who built a bunch of excellent technology around recognizing and categorizing emails from social networks, you now get updates such as

in the Messenger Social feed.

What Do Customers Think of the Blending of Email Content in a Social News Feed?

Since Messenger is still in beta and Hotmail has just begun to roll out not a lot of people (relatively given over 350 million users) have seen this feature yet. Anecdotally, I’ve heard lots of positive feedback about this feature from a bunch of beta users but my favorite is the following comment taken from the reviews of the Windows Live Messenger iPhone app from the Apple App Store(comment #33).

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