I finally had some free time yesterday to explore the Windows Live Expo API and quickly whipped up a Live.com gadget which browses apartment and condo listings in a zip code of your choice. Given that we might be moving again this summer since a noisy bar opened across the street, this gadget will turn out to be quite handy. Below is a screenshot of the gadget.

You can add it to your Live.com page by going here and clicking .  I didn't really have much problems with the Expo API beyond the fact that it only accepts latitudes and longitudes so I have to use the Yahoo! Geocoding API to convert zip codes to lat/long coordinates before calling the Expo API. The fact that they both used RESTful APIs definitely made writing this mashup a breeze.

I'd love to add a feature to the gadget where I can add an apartment I like to one of my collections in Windows Live Local since I already have a collection of "apartments we should check out" there already. However there are a number of issues which prevent this today. Of course, I know all the right folks to nag to make the changes that would make this possible. :)


Categories: Windows Live | XML Web Services

I saw two related posts on TechCrunch this morning that resonated with some of the issues I face in my day job. The post entitled MySpace Nukes SingleStat.us states

Well, so much for the SingleStat.us experiment that allowed people to find out when someone on MySpace changes their relationship status. MySpace’s friendly lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to David Weekly, the engineer who built SingleStat.us, demanding he take the site down and claiming that his "activities are causing and will continue to cause MySpace substantial and irreparable harm."
Something tells me that MySpace might be exaggerating just a bit when they say SingleStat.us is causing them "undue server burden". And if I’ve learned anything from covering companies, it’s that sending a cease and desist letter to a small, one-man startup is generally not going to work out the way you planned.

there is also another post entitled Why is Flickr afraid of Zooomr? which states

Flickr says that users own the the images and tags we enter into their system. Apparently that doesn’t mean they have to make it easy for us to take what we own elsewhere.

When Kristopher Tate, the founder of the feature-rich startup photosharing site Zooomr (see prior coverage), asked Flickr earlier this month for access to their Commercial API, Flickr’s response by email was that "we choose not to support use of the API for sites that are a straight alternative to Flickr." Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield posted to a Flickr forum on Wednesday saying that when it comes to direct competitors like Zooomr, "why should we burn bandwidth and CPU cycles sending stuff directly to their servers?"

The concerns brought up by the MySpace and Flickr folks are concerns that I've had to deal with as our various services such as MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger have grown and we've considered ways to open up these services to third parties via APIs. First of all, despite what Mike Arrington thinks there definitely is a concern when a service shows up whose entire business model is based on polling your website and screenscraping the HTML several times a day. There is a definitley a valid concern if a cottage industry of services springs up around polling MySpace and crawling the various social networks and profiles on the site. Given that there are already necessary evils one has to deal with like search engines and RSS readers, no one who build a successful online service wants to increase the number of web crawlers hitting their site unless absolutely necessary.

However if there are enough of these kinds of requests, it may point to an oppostunity for the website to provide an API. This often ends up building an ecosystem of services and applications aroung the website which ends up benefitting everyone. On the flip side, I often wonder about the balance between making it easy for users to get their data and making it easy for competitors to poach our users. Flickr makes it easy for users to get their data from the service but is hesitant about making it easy for competitors [which includes big players like Google not just startups like Zooomr] from simply bulk copying user information from their service. I think it's a fine line and I've had debates with folks like Mike Torres about where exactly the line is crossed.

In both instances above, the issue isn't the specific incident but the aggregate effect of allowing the behavior to continue.


The Windows Live Favorites team has a post on their blog entitled Live Favorites - Beta No More! which states

We, the Live Favorites Team, are happy to announce that as of today Live Favorites is officially released as a V1 product... Beta No more!
A little while ago we put into production our final V1 service and web site.  Check it out:

Expanded Market Support

Live Favorites is now available in 37 markets and 11 languages around the world.  We're thrilled to be able to bring the service to so many people!

Live Favorites Messenger Tab New Features

We've got some great new features in our Messenger Tab:

  • Folder Support - See all of your favorites in folders!  Click on the small Folder icon to switch between Top Favorites and Folder Views.
  • Favorite Count - See exactly how many favorites you have stored.
  • Add Favorites - You can now add favorites directly from Messenger. Click the down arrow next to "Manage" to manage your favorites, add a favorite, or refresh Messenger's list of favorites

Live Favorites Web Site Enhancements

Of course, your main place to access and manage your favorites is still our website at http://favorites.live.com.  We've added a lot of enhancements for this release, check 'em out:

  • Speed!  - We've done a lot of work to greatly reduce rendering time on our site.
  • Browser Support -  Live Favorites fully supports IE6, IE7 and Firefox.
  • Multi-Select - You asked for it! Select multiple favorites and delete or move them with a single click.  Simply hold down the Ctrl key and click on multiple items to select them.
  • Favorites Status - We now tell you exactly how many folders and favorites you have
  • Easier Sharing - Share your favorites with a single click!  In the details view click "Private" on any favorite to share it, and vice versa!
  • UI Enhancements - Resize columns!  Sort by any column!   Improved graphics! List View!  Favorites Preview!

Congrats to Irwin, Lucius, Brion and the rest of the Live Favorites gang for getting v1 of their service out the door


Categories: Windows Live

The Live.com team have been getting a lot of feedback about how to improve their user experience and it looks like they paid attention to a lot of the critics. The post on the team blog entitled  live.com UI refresh outlines some of the changes they've made including 

 -          Wehave simplified our first run experience to provide a fast andstraight-forward experience for users that are interested in asearch-focused page, as well as the option for users to personalizetheir homepage or learn more about Windows Live services.  

-          Wehave heard that users want a personalized homepage that is easier toset up, so we are also introducing a new customization step to helpusers personalize their Live.com homepage. Users can now choose from 5templates to quickly get started with a few interesting pages rightaway (including a world cup template!)

-          You’ll also note some look and feel improvements with a new logo, improved themes, header and page treatments that make the page more visually appealing.

I know there has been a lot of folks at work have nagged the team about making the start page a simple search box while others want to have a more pre-programmed feel like MSN.com. It looks like the team has found a good compromise. Here are some screenshots of the new start page and one of the templates that can be chosen as a start page. The world cup template below is particularly amusing to me because I've seen a bunch of internal criticism the team has been getting for not doing something to support the world cup.

First run experience

World Cup template

There are almost 50 comments on to the blog post announcing the changes as I write this and most of them are positive. Kudos to Sanaz and company.


Categories: Windows Live

June 15, 2006
@ 09:46 PM

From the press release entitled Microsoft Announces Plans for July 2008 Transition for Bill Gates

REDMOND, Wash. — June 15, 2006 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that effective July 2008 Bill Gates, chairman, will transition out of a day-to-day role in the company to spend more time on his global health and education work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The company announced a two-year transition process to ensure that there is a smooth and orderly transfer of Gates’ daily responsibilities, and said that after July 2008 Gates would continue to serve as the company’s chairman and an advisor on key development projects.

The company announced that Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie will immediately assume the title of chief software architect and begin working side by side with Gates on all technical architecture and product oversight responsibilities, to ensure a smooth transition. Similarly, Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie will immediately take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will work closely with Gates to assume his responsibility for the company’s research and incubation efforts; Mundie also will partner with general counsel Brad Smith to guide Microsoft’s intellectual property and technology policy efforts.

Wow. It looks like the internal grapevine was right. That explains all the press Ray has been getting as the savior of Microsoft.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

June 15, 2006
@ 07:38 PM

Mike Arrington has a blog post entitled AOL-Netscape Launches Massive "Digg Killer" where he writes

On Thursday, AOL’s Netscape property will no longer be just another portal - it’s being converted into a Digg-killer. I was briefed on the new site by Jason Calacanis last week. As of tonight, he owns the Netscape property at AOL. The new site will run at beta.netscape.com for now, converting over to the main Netscape.com property soon.

It’s not exactly a Digg clone (home page screenshot here). Submitted stories are voted on in much the same way, and the more votes a story gets the higher it appears in a category home page or on Netscape.com itself. However, the top few spots in each category and on the home page are determined by an "anchor" - essentially an editor choosing from stories moving up the ranks.

There's also some good commentary on this in Greg Linden's post Netscape's News Scrape and Danny Sullivan in his post Netscape Aims To Be Digg 2.0, Slashdot 3.0 With Community News Model. Using the wisdom of the crowds to improve news sites is an good idea and one that has worked for Slashdot and Digg as Danny Sullivan points out. However I agree with Greg Linden that the holy grail is truly personalized news although the Slashdot/Digg/Netscape approach is a decent middle ground.

I was going to send a mail at work about this and encourage Microsoft to do the same until I realized I didn't even know which division of folks to send the mail to. If you read any random Microsoft press release you'll see the following excerpt

MSN is a world leader in delivering compelling programmed content experiences to consumers and online advertising opportunities to businesses worldwide. Windows Live, a new set of personal Internet services and software, is designed to bring together in one place all the relationships, information and interests people care about most

So MSN is for programmed content like your traditional news site and Windows Live is for personalized content. So which of these two divisions would be interested in a half-way approach like Slashdot or Digg? I literally have no idea and I work at Microsoft. So I cancelled the mail and blogged this instead. If I'm confused by this arbitrary distinction between MSN and Windows Live, I can only imagine how much our customers get it. :)


Tim Bray has a blog post entitled Blogging Cam: Almost Right where he writes

Via Niall Kennedy (who’s been very good lately): Microsoft cameras that have one-button publishing to MSN Spaces. This is so wrong. I don’t want to see a future in which your camera is LiveJournal-enabled or Facebook-ready. When I get a computer or a mobile device, it’s either Web-ready or not, it doesn’t have to be MSN-enabled or Yahoo-blessed.

I agree 100%. I worked on the APIs for MSN Spaces and this was one of my goals. The APIs we expose should be industry standards (de facto or de jure) and we shouldn't think of APIs as being the purvey of exlusionary deals. We are waiting for some things to pull together such as the the Windows Live ID client SDK before announcing more APIs. In the meantime, you can assume that any public APIs we provide will be available to all at not exlusionary. 


Categories: Windows Live

June 15, 2006
@ 05:20 PM

The MSN Spaces team blog has a new entry entitled Spaces Updates! which states

Hey Spaces fans, you may have noticed a change in the URL for your Space.  We’re excited to announce that we released late Monday evening (Seattle time.) 

 In addition to the URL Change, we have added support for many additional modules.  Some of these are:

* Available in these countries for this release:   Australia, United Kingdom, & USA

I have the weather gadget on my space at http://carnage4life.spaces.msn.com. This is a step in the right direction, although ideally I should be able to write my own gadgets to use as modules on my space. That would be killer, except that it introduces a lot of interesting security problems if I could inject mini AJAX applications into my space. A tough problem to solve that would lead to some very cool mashups if figured out. I'd love to be able to add a few of the hundreds of existing gadgets to my space. I also suspect that there'd be a lot more interest in building gadgets when they have a potential audience of tens of millions of people versus to small audience that Live.com has today.


Categories: Windows Live

From the press release entitled Microsoft Hardware Advances Digital Communications Experiences we learn

Consumer research1 has revealed that people want to stay connected, and many would use webcams if they were easier to operate and provided better audio and video quality. To counter those frustrations, Microsoft Hardware and the Windows Live team have joined forces to introduce a line of LifeCams starting with the LifeCam VX-6000 and LifeCam VX-3000.

These next-generation webcams provide groundbreaking video and audio quality that opens the door for richer digital communications experiences. Optimized for use with Windows Live™ Messenger, the world’s largest instant messaging network,2 LifeCams meet the growing demand for easier, more meaningful connections.
Optimized for Windows Live Messenger

LifeCam VX-6000
LifeCam VX-6000
Click for larger version.

The first two available webcams, the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 and Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000, bring a new dimension to Windows Live Messenger and feature exclusive industry firsts that streamline the webcam experience:

Windows Live Call Button. Located on the top of each LifeCam, the Windows Live Call Button makes placing a video call a breeze by eliminating the usual multiple steps. Just one touch brings up the Buddy Picker, a tool that shows users only current online buddies. They simply select their contact’s name and they are on their way to making a video call.

LifeCam Dashboard. Built right into the Windows Live Messenger window for easy access during video calling, the LifeCam Dashboard provides simple access to the controls people need most, including pan, tilt and zoom. Now users’ attention stays where it should be — on their video conversation.

One-touch blogging. Windows Live Spaces is one of the fastest-growing blog communities in the world, with more than 50 million individual Spaces. Now, users can post High Definition LifeCam pictures directly to their Windows Live Space blog with one click from within the LifeCam window.

This is another one of the product teams I've gotten to work with in recent months. I'm sure you can guess which of the listed bits of Windows Live integration I worked on. By the way, if you are a hardware vendor or into tweaking your hardware you might be interested in http://dev.live.com/hardware/. Building mashups with Windows Live services isn't going to be limited to Web apps, we expect hardware devices to get in on the game as well.

NOTE: MSN Spaces isn't Windows Live Spaces. Yet.


Categories: Windows Live

That's what I get for not getting financial advice from a professional. :)


Categories: Personal