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

December 30, 2004
@ 08:38 PM

In Adam Bosworth's post Where have all the good databases gone he asks the Open Source community to target some problems with relational databases that the Big 3 vendors have seemingly been unable to solve.

Krzysztof Kowalczyk has an interesting response to Adam Bosworth's post entitled Google - we take it all, give nothing back where he writes

Open-source - not working as advertised.

The popular theory ("myth” would be a better name) is that open-source works because of this positive feedback loop:

  • source code for product foo is released
  • it’s free so it gets used
  • if it doesn’t fully meet someone’s needs, that someone can code the functionality (since the code is open) and submit the changes back to project (something not possible if you use closed products like Windows or Office or Google)

  • those contributions improve the product for everyone else, so more people use it so more people contribute the code and so on. Sky is hardly the limit.

The good thing in this theory is that it doesn’t rely on kindness of strangers but on englightened self-interest of those who benefit from free software. The bad thing about this theory is that in theory it works much better than in practice.

It’s all because of a weblog post by Google’s Adam Bosworth. Read it yourself, but the gist of it is that, according to Adam, commercial database vendors don’t understand the needs of companies like Google or Amazon or Federal Express. Relational database rely on static schemas and there are no good ways to dynamically reconfigure databases without the disruption in service. Adam ends with a plea to open-source fairy:

My message is to the Open Source community that has, so ably, built LAMP (Linux, Apache and Tomcat and MySQL and PHP and PERL and Python). Please finish the job. Do for databases what you did for web servers. Give us dynamism and robustness. Give us systems that scale linearly, are flexible and dynamically reconfigurable and load balanced and easy to use.

This is why the theory of open source doesn’t work in real world. A multi-billion company has a clear need for software that works well for them but instead of investing in existing open-source projects like PostgreSQL or MySQL to make them do what they need, all they do is ask some magic, undefined entity they call Open Source community to do the work for them. For free.

Google - we take it all, give nothing back. Come work for us.

Let’s estimate how much money did Google save by using open source software that they would otherwise have to purchase. The operating system for tens of thousands of their computers. Web servers they use. All the Unix utilities they use. Editors, compilers and debuggers they use to write their code. E-mail smtp server. E-mail pop servers. Languages like Perl and Python. Databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL. It’s safe to say that if Richard Stallman was never born, the licenses for those kinds of software would cost them tens of millions of dollars.

And what does Google contribute back? Where are their patches to gcc, gdb, python, postgresql, sendmail, emacs?

Google - we leave open-source to Microsoft. Come work for us.

It’s very ironic that I can find more open-source code created by Microsoft and its employees ( RSS Bandit, IronPython, Windows Installer XML (WiX), FlexWiki) than by Google employees. Not saying that there aren’t any but they are certainly not easy to find, even when I use mighty search engine trying to find google open-source.

Google - we like our hardware cheap and our software free. Come work for us.

If you’re into this stuff you know that Google is known for it’s highly tuned process of selecting hardware components (i.e. all those thousands of computers they need to index and store the web) to hit the best price/performance ratio. In a way, they use the cheapest thing, when you define the cost as the total cost of ownership (as opposed to simply the cost of buying the hardware). Thanks to Adam’s admision:

Indeed, in these days of open source, I wonder if the software itself, should cost at all?

we also know, that they like their software free.

As a side note, it’s a surprising statement coming from Adam who knows very well that writing software costs a lot. Open-source doesn’t eliminate this cost, it just shift the costs and allows unlimited number of free-riders, like Google.

I’m picking on Google, but they are not alone. Amazon, yahoo, ebay, aol. Any large business that uses web as means of providing services and making revenues is enjoying enormous savings by using open source stack on their back end. And what do they contribute back? A good approximation of zero compared to benefits they reap.
But Adam’s example shows that there’s a fat chance of this happening. Adam is not a rank Google employee. He was not hired to give free massage to stressed Google employees. Before Google Adam was a high-ranked executive at Microsoft and BEA. He led teams that created successful products (IE, Access among them). He’s in position to influence what Google does. He understands technology, he understand the cost and difficulty of making software. He has a weblog and deep thoughts. If only he understood the strategic value of open source.

If someone like Adam cannot see further than the tip of his own nose and his ideas are as bold as asking others to write the software he needs for free, then I don’t have much hope for anyone at aol to get it either.

Google - do no Evil. Do no Good. Just like everybody else. Come work for us.
In those days of focus on corporate profits (where there any other days?), Google’s motto “Do no Evil” is refreshing.

Or is it? It’s a nice soundbite, but when you think about it, it’s really a low requirement. There are very little things that deserve to be called Evil. If a senior citizen is taking a nap outside his house on a sunny day and you kick him in the groin - that’s Evil. Most other things are bad or neutral. Not doing Evil is easy. Doing Good is the hard thing.

I doubt that this is the kind of response that Adam Bosworth was expecting when he posted his plea. The fun thing about corporate blogs is that it gives people more places to read between the lines and learn how a company really thinks. I suspect this is why Google doesn't have many authentic bloggers and instead has favored the press release page masquerading as group blog approach at http://www.google.com/googleblog/.


Thanks to Danny Ayers post entitled Attention, Attention.xml I finally found a link to the attention.xml specification that was referenced in Robert Scobles post Gillmor's report on Attention.xml is done where he wrote

One of my 2005 predictions is coming true. Steve Gillmor's report on Attention.xml is included in Esther Dyson's Release 1.0. Thanks to Mike Manuel for letting us know the report is now available for $80. I'll have to check our corporate library and see if it's available there (I believe it is).

Danny Ayers does a good job of taking a critical look at the syntax chosen for the attention.xml format. I on the other hand, have fundamental questions about the purpose of the format and how it expects to solve the problems highlighted in its problem statement. As at the time I wrote this post the attention.xml problem statement stated

  • How many sources of information must you keep up with?

  • Tired of clicking the same link from a dozen different blogs?

  • RSS readers collect updates, but with so many unread items, how do you know which to read first?

Attention.XML is designed to to solve these problems and enable a whole new class of blog and feed related applications.

These are rather lofty goals and as the author of a moderately popular RSS reader I am interested in solutions to these problems. Looking at the attention.xml format schema description it seems the format is primarily a serialization of the internal state of an RSS reader including information such as

  • what feeds the user reads
  • when feeds were added or removed from the users subscription list
  • the last time a user read a feed
  • the amount of time the user spent reading a post
  • which links in the post the user cliecked on
  • the users rating for a post or feed
  • etc

This list of data seems suspiciously like a format for synchronizing the state between multiple aggregators or an aggregator client and server. This makes it very similar to the Synchronization of Information Aggregators using Markup (SIAM) format  which I authored with input from a number of aggregator authors including Luke Hutteman (author of SharpReader), Morbus Iff (author of AmphetaDesk) and Brent Simmons (author of NetNewsWire).

Before going into some of the details around the technical difficulties in recording some of the information that the attention.xml format requires I want to go back and address the problem statement. I can't see how the internal state of an RSS reader serialized to some XML format solves problems like users seeing multiple blogs posts from people linking to the same item or determining the relative importance of various unread items in a users queue. The former can be solved quite readily by aggregators today (I don't do it in RSS Bandit because I think the performance cost is too high and it is unclear that this feature is actually beneficial) while the latter is bordering on an AI problem which isn't going to be solved with the limited set of information contained in the attention.xml format. In short, I can't see how the information in an attention.xml document actually solves the problems described in the problem statement.

Now on the technical and social difficulties of creating the attention.xml format. The first problem is that not every aggregator can record all the information that is required by the format. Some aggregators don't have post rating features, some won't or can't track how long a user was reading an item [which will vary from user to user anyway due to people's different reading speeds], and others don't record the user's relationship to the author do the feed. So attention.xml requires a lot of new features from RSS readers. Assuming that the spec gets some traction, I expect that different aggregators will add support for different features while ignoring others (e.g. I can see myself adding post rating features to RSS Bandit but I doubt I'll ever track reading times) which is the case with support for RSS itself within various RSS readers today. The fact that various RSS readers will most likely support different subsets of the attention.xml format is one problem. There is also the fact that logging all this information may be cumbersome in certain cases which would also reduce how likely it is that all the information described in the spec will be recorded. Then the problem is what to do when clients speak different dialects of attention.xml. Are they expected to round trip? If I send Bloglines an attention.xml file with rating information even though it doesn't have that feature, should it track that information for the next time it is asked for my attention.xml by Newsgator which supports ratings?

Don't take this post to mean that I don't think something like attention.xml isn't necessary. As it stands now I want to increase the number of synchronization sources supported by RSS Bandit to include the Bloglines sync API and Newsgator Online synchronization but they use different web services. It looks like Technorati is proposing a third with attention.xml. I'd love for there to be some standardization in this area which would make my life as an aggregator author much easier. Client<->server synchronization of user subscriptions is something that users of information aggregators really would like to see (I get requests for this feature all the time) and it would be good to see some of the major players in this area get together with aggregator authors to see how we can make the ecosystem healthier and provide a better story for users all around.

I don't believe that attention.xml is a realistic solution to the problems facing aggregator authors and users of RSS readers. I just hope that some solution shows up soon as opposed to the current fragmentation that exists in the syndication market place.


December 27, 2004
@ 03:58 AM

I tend to think it takes a lot of insensitivity to stun me but it seems like I was incorrect. I was taken aback by Robert Scoble's post entitled Where's the blogosphere on first-hand earthquake reports? where he writes

By the way, PubSub really rocks (it lets you search blogs only and build an RSS feed so you can watch a specific search term over time -- something none of the big three search engines let you do). My posts only took a few minutes to start showing up in the earthquake feed I built. There's remarkably little blogging going on about the earthquake.

It's really disappointing. Citizen Journalism is really failing here. Almost no first-hand reports.

The mainstream press kicked the blogosphere's a##.

This is probably one of the most insensitive and unthinking posts I've seen in a while. A giant tidal wave kills over twelve thousand people and Robert Scoble's first instinct is to complain because none of the survivors rushed to their blogs immediately afterwards to post about it.



As promised in the RSS Bandit roadmap, the preview of the next version of RSS Bandit is now available for general download. You can now download it at RssBandit.


  • Newspaper styles: Ability to view all unread posts in a feed in a Newspaper view. This view uses templates that are in the same format as those used by FeedDemon so one can use RSS Bandit newspaper styles in FeedDemon and vice versa.

  • Per feed newspaper styles: Ability to specify a particular stylesheets for a given feed. For example, one could use the slashdot.fdxsl stylesheet for viewing Slashdot, headlines.fdxsl for viewing news sites and outlook-express.fdxsl for viewing blog posts.

  • Skim Mode: Added option to 'Mark All Items As Read on Exiting a Feed' 

  • Search Folder Improvements: Made the following additions to the context menu for search folders; 'New Search Folder', 'Refresh Search', 'Mark All Items As Read' and 'Rename Search Folder'. Also deletion of a search folder now prompts the user to prevent accidental deletion

  • Item Deletion: News items can be deleted by either using the [Del] key or using the context menu. Deleted items go to the "Deleted Items" special folder and can be deleted permanently by emptying the folder or restored to the original feed at a later date.

  • UI Improvements: Tabbed browsers now use a multicolored border reminiscent of Microsoft OneNote.

  • Limited NNTP Support: Ability to add a news server via the Tools->Newsgroups menu items. Once added the available news groups on that news server can be queried.


  • Subscribing to newsgroups
  • Ability to filter items in list view by some search parameters
  • Option of automatic upload/download of RSS Bandit state for synchronization purposes 
  • Column chooser to enable users pick what columns show up in the list view.

For a detailed log of the differences between the Wolverine alpha and v1.2.0.117 check out the RSS Bandit changelog


Categories: RSS Bandit

Jim Hill has a post where he comments on Michael Eisner's management methods as Disney CEO in his post What does a Yeti smell like?  where he writes

Michael Eisner is a micro-manager. Now, I know that that's not exactly a late breaking story. But I think that it's important to understand how truly obsessive Disney's CEO can be when it comes to getting the details at the company's theme parks just right.

Take -- for example -- the Dolphin Resort Hotel. When Eisner wasn't entirely convinced that the giant banana leaves that architect Michael Graves wanted to paint on the sides of this resort would actually look good, Disney's CEO ordered that a huge sample leaf be painted on the backside of Epcot's Mexico pavilion. Just so he could see if this particular design element would look good when it was done to full scale.

But Michael's almost-insane attention to detail doesn't just stop at just the outside of Disney's resorts. Oh, no. After all, for years now, Eisner has insisted that -- before he signs off on the construction of any new WDW hotel -- that a sample room from this proposed resort be prepared. One that features all the furnishings that guests will actually be using in this hotel.

This sample room used to be located in a backstage area at the Caribbean Beach Resort. I've actually seen photos of this squat square structure back when the Imagineers were testing design elements for the All Star Music Resort. Which is why these pictures feature a giant sample maraca leaning against this tiny brightly painting building.

As for the other part of this story ... That Michael reportedly insists on sleeping in each of these sample rooms before he will actually allow construction of the proposed resort to go forward ... That part, I've never been able to prove.

Although Jim Hill's intention is to paint Michael Eisner in a negative light with these examples I'm not sure I necessarily see them as being bad practices. Personally, I'd love it if I heard that Steve Ballmer (the CEO of the company that employs me) wouldn't allow Microsoft to ship a copy of Microsoft Money until he'd used it to manage his finances with relative success or that no MSN Direct SmartWatches should go out until he'd succesfully used one as his personal timepiece for a month or that no release of Internet Explorer would be shipped until he could browse any site on the Web without fear of his computer being taken over by spyware. Of course, I don't expect this to ever happen even if Steve Ballmer wanted to do this Microsoft ships too many products to introduce such a bottleneck in the product development process.

I do know people who've had VPs take personal interest in their products that have ended up disliking that level of scrutiny. One person even commented "Whenever I see a VP asking some nitpicky questions about one of my features, I wonder to myself why he's trying to micromanage my features instead of trying to figure out how to get our stock price out of the flat funk its been in for the past few years". Different strokes for different folks I guess. :)


December 24, 2004
@ 02:38 AM

Mark Fussell, my former boss, has a post entitled Smart Watch Frustration - A Christmas tale of where he talks about the various problems he's had with an MSN Direct SmartWatch. He writes  

  • I wander into the company store and excitedly purchase a Fossil FX-3001 at the end of Dec 2003. I have to wait 4 weeks before I receive it, so it was a belated christmas present.
  • I receive watch one in Jan, the plastic/metal carton nearly kills me, but I activate it and procede to continuously show my work mates how great it is and how I know exaclty where to be for my next meeting.
  • End of Jan 2004 - watch one goes blank and stops working entirely. Not a hint of life. I send it to the Fossil repair center. 
  • Feb 2004 - Get new watch two, register it, continue to enjoy it and proudly show it off again, especially to Arpan, who desparately wants one. 
  • Feb 2004 - Watch two starts to reset on an hourly basis to 12pm 1/1/2001, rendering it useless. I send it to the Fossil repair center again.
  • March 2004 - Get new watch three, register it and enjoy it and tentively showing it off. By now everyone is uninterested in it.
  • May 2004 - Watch starts to reset on a 2-3 hourly basis. Worse still I start to tell people the wrong time and cause confusing including one old lady in the street who asked my the time and then argued that I was wrong. I should have agreed with her. 
  • May 2004 - Nov 2004 - I suffer watch three.Whilst it is in a good reception area (i.e. around my home) it works Ok. If I go anywhere out of reception range (i.e. the steel buildings at work, 20 miles north of my house or the UK) the watch becomes immediately useless, resetting to 12pm 1/1/2001 continuously. i.e. it is not even a watch.
  • Nov 2004 - I give up. I send watch three to the Fossil repair center having spent 30 minutes on the phone with a technican trying to "fix" it.
  • Dec 2004 - Get new watch four which is a new design, the FX-3005. The clasp must have been invented by someone from the Spanish Inquisition and it takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to open and close it. I take watch four out of its brand new box and set it onto the charger. There is no comforting "beep" to indicate that it is charging. I spend 1 hour trying every combination and position on the charger. The next day I speak to the Fossil technical help desk and they determine, as I did the night before, that watch four is a lifeless heap of metal and plastic.  I sent it to the Fossil repair center.
  • Dec 22nd 2004 - I recieve watch five which is also a new FX-3005. Curiously this one is not in a new box and is simply wrapped in bubble wrap. I take it out and note that it is ready charged, but at least it is working, being careful not to slash my wrist with the dangerous metal clasp. I leave it to charge overnight and sync my personal settings.
  • Dec23rd - In the morning I note that it still has not synced my settings, so I go to register the watch ID on the MSD Direct site. Worringly it replies that this watch is already registered. No problem, I phone MSN Direct. To cut a 40 minute conversation short, I am told to 'reboot' the watch by continuously pressing three painful buttons (it takes 9 attempts)  to generate a new 'dynamic' ID for the watch. It turns out that this is all in futility. And here is the crux. This watch was previously owned(by the ID) and the icing on the cake is that the ID cannot be reset and assigned to my account. I am told by the help desk that the only thing that I can do is send it back to the Fossil repair center. Aaaaargh.Aaaaargh.Aaaaargh
  • I witnessed a lot of this first hand and I was stunned at how problematic these watches were for Mark. The initial lure of the SmartWatch to Mark was having a useful, internet-connected device that would automatically track his schedule as well as keep up with news and sports scores. I also had a need for such a decide but decided to go with a SmartPhone instead.


    So far my AudioVox SMT 5600 has worked like a charm. It's a phone, a camera, it syncs with Outlook wirelessly so I always have an up to date email and calendar, it tracks traffic density, it can be used to catch up on news when I'm bored while I'm stuck waiting somewhere, and I've even used it to hit Google once or twice while on the go. Plus the form factor is all that and a bag of chips.


    I should to talk Mark into giving up on the SmartWatches and going for a SmartPhone instead.



    December 22, 2004
    @ 05:27 PM

    It seems there's been some recent hubbub in the world of podcasting about how to attach multiple binary files to a single post in an RSS feed In a post entitled Multiple-enclosures on RSS items? Dave Winer weighs in on the issue. He writes

    This question comes up from time to time, and I've resisted answering it directly, thinking that anyone who really read the spec would come to the conclusion that RSS allows zero or one enclosures per item, and no more. The same is true for all other sub-elements of item, except category, where multiple elements are explicitly allowed. The spec refers to "the enclosure" in the singular. Regardless, some people persist in thinking that you may have more than one enclosure per item.

    Okay, let's play it out. So if I have more than one enclosure per item, how do I specify the publication date for each enclosure? How do I specify the title, author, a link to comments, a description perhaps, or a guid? The people who want multiple enclosures suggest schemes that are so complicated that they're reduced to hand-waving before they get to the spec, which I would love to read, if it could be written. Some times some things are just too hard to do. This is one of them.

    And there's a reason why it's too hard. Because you're throwing out the value of RSS and then trying to figure out how to bring it back. There's no need for items any more, so you might as well get rid of them. At the top level of channel would be a series of enclosures, and then underneath each enclosure, all the meta-data. Voila, problem solved. Only what have you actually solved? You've just re-created RSS, but instead of calling the main elements "item" we now call them "enclosure".

    The value of RSS is fairly self evident to me but it seems that given the amount of people who keep wanting to reinvent the wheel it may not be as clear to others. As someone who used to work on core XML technologies at Microsoft, the value of XML was obvious to me. It allowed developers to agree to use the same data format for information interchange which led to a proliferation of a wide and uniform set of tools for working with data formats. XML is not an optimal format for most of the tasks it is used for but it more than makes up for this with the plethora of tools and technologies that exist for processing XML.  

    My expectation about XML was always that the software industry would move on to agreeing on other higher level protocols built on XML for application information interchange. So I've always been frustrated to see many attempts by various parties, including the W3C with efforts such as XML 1.1 and binary XML, take us steps back by wanting to fragment the interoperability promise of XML.

    RSS is a wonderful example of the higher level of interoperability that can be built upon XML formats. Instead of information sources using various incompatible mechanisms for providing information to end users such as NOAA's SOAP web service and the Microsoft.com web services which each require a separate custom application to consume them, sites can all standardize on RSS. This standardization creates an ecosystem of applications that produce and consume RSS feeds which is a lot larger than what would exist for each site specific web services or market specific XML syndication formats.  Specifically, it allows for the evolution of the digital information hub where users can view data from the various information sources they care about (blogs, news, weather reports, etc) in their choice of applications. 

    Additionally, RSS is extensible. This means that even if the core elements and attributes do not satisfy all the requirements of a particular problem domain, then domain-specific information can be added to the feed. This allows for regular consumers of RSS to still be able to consume the content while domain specific applications can give users a richer experience. This is a much better solution for both content producers and consumers than coming up with domain specific applications.

    As a user I want less formats not more. I want my email to come in my RSS aggregator, I want my favorite newsgroups to show up in my RSS aggregator, I'm tired of having a separate application for what is essentially the same kind of data. In fact, it seems Google agrees with me as evidenced by them exposing XML feeds for your GMail inbox and for USENET newsgroups via Google Groups. Unfortunately, if you have a plain old RSS reader, you can't view these feeds and instead have to find an aggregator that supports Atom 0.3. Two steps forward, one step back.

    We need less data interchange formats not more. It is better for content producers, better for end users and better for developers of applications that use these formats. Existing problems in syndication should focus on how to make the existing formats work for us instead of inventing new formats. 

    Vive la RSS. 


    Categories: Syndication Technology | XML

    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 20, 2004
    @ 11:40 PM

    I've read Robert Scoble's Dear Bill Gates: can we create an interesting music player? post and the ensuing flood of negative  feedback with some interest. The core ideas of the post are fairly naive but do an interesting job of exposing the prejudices and internal biases of both Robert Scoble and many of his readers who responded. The core ideas of Roberts post were

    1. Microsoft should get in the music player business or pressure some OEMs to listen to their design suggestions.

    2. Get big name celebrities to endorse it

    3. Try and ship it in time for next year's back to school season

    4. create a marketting blitz around it

    5. blog about it

    The ideas in itself except for the part about blogging aren't really original and are the kind of things that would come up in any 30 minute brainstorming session about what one would do if they wanted to compete with Apple's iPod. I'm also quite skeptical that blogging about a hardware product will make me any more likely to buy it over an existing market leader. There is no blog by the Apple iPod team or the TiVo team yet I love both products and wouldn't consider alternatives even though there are Microsoft employees who blog who constantly evangelize competing products.

    The rest of the ideas are either impractical (even if Microsoft wanted it couldn't get in the music player business in less than six months and OEMs aren't under Microsoft's control when it comes to their product design) or common sense (getting celebrity endorsements).

    What I find interesting is the intensity of the reaction to this post.

    One reaction which is obvious in hindsight is the assumption in this post that Microsoft shouldn't abide the fact that Apple is dominating a market it isn't directly engaged in. This is such a natural way of thinking of for Microsoft people ("we should be number 1 in every software/hardware/technology related market") that it is often surprising for non-Microserfs when they first encounter the mentality.

    Then there are those who thinks Scoble dissed the Windows Media team by (a) touting such obvious ideas as too revolutionary for them to have come up with and (b) implying that they are failing. I think these people are being a tad bit sensitive. However I also think it was unwise of Robert to be so dismissive of the efforts of the folks working in this area at Microsoft. Given that his day job involves getting product teams to open up to him on Channel 9, he isn't going to get much of cooperation from them if he keeps knocking their efforts. Another reason is that you never know who you'll end up working with. I remember once writing that MSN Messenger was one of the software applications I cannot stand only to get a rebuke from Scoble to make the post more constructive which I did. A year and a half later, and I'm on the team that owns the server for MSN Messenger. I have lots of little stories like this just from my experiences in the past three years at Microsoft. I definitely weigh my thoughts more carefully before posting anything negative about products or technologies in the software industry in general.

    For a while I've been frustrated by my experience as an XBox owner. I can't get games like Transformers Armada and DragonBall Z: Budokai at all while games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas won't show up until 6 months after they've been out on Playstaton 2. However I've never thought of posting an open letter to Bill Gates on my blog with a proposal to use celebrity endorsements, partnerships with game publishers and blogging to counter the dominance of Playstation 2 in the console market.

    Sometimes I wonder if that is a virtue or a vice. ;)


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

    December 19, 2004
    @ 02:06 AM

    The longer I have my AudioVox SMT 5600 the more I begin to understand what  Russell Beattie has been preaching all these years. Yesterday I attended the Phoenix Suns vs. Seattle Sonics game at Key Arena. In between the 1st and 2nd quarters they were playing some songs by Lil Jon (having gone to school in Atlanta I smile whenever I hear "Skeet Skeet" in public) then lo and behold I notice Lil Jon below sitting courtside. My date informed me that he was scheduled to be in concert later that night.

    I quickly navigated to http://www.ticketmaster.com on my phone to see if I could get some tickets but it seems the site doesn't support mobile browsers. I've slowly begun to get hooked on having Internet access with me wherever I am. Email, traffic reports, movie times and more can now be checked anytime and anywhere. How have I managed without a SmartPhone all this time?


    Categories: Technology

    I saw a recent post from Dave Winer berating Yahoo! where he wrote

    Yahoo is the strangest most jealous and behind-the-scenes plotting and scheming of tech companies. When any of the other "giants" moves in RSS space I get plenty of advance notice so that I can help them promote it, maybe even make it better before it's announced. Yahoo, as a company seems jealous and insecure, seems to have as a goal, replacing me. Hey it's been tried before, probably isn't worth the trouble. And it's amazing for all the lack of respect, how much of my (unpatented) work they're using to reshape their company. If I didn't know better I might think that someone inside the company is claiming credit for my work and doesn't want the boss to know. ";->"

    I wasn't sure what this post was about so I did a little Googling and came upon a post on the atom-syntax mailing list entitled Yahoo and "Media RSS" which points out that Yahoo! has created a specification entitled "Media RSS" Specification Version .9 (DRAFT). I found it interesting that Yahoo! is throwing its weight behind a spec to replace the current mechanisms used for podcasting. I am not surprised that Dave Winer was irritated especially since some of the stuff in the spec seems extremely questionable (the media:people is a single element that can contain multiple people separated by the '|' character, attributes like playerWidth & playerHeight that are supposed to control how big the media player window used to consume content should be, etc).

    However before getting deeper into the Yahoo! specification I stumbled on a post by Danny Ayers on the atom-syntax mailing list which expressed some confusion about how XML vocabularies are defined

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks a little broken:

    <media:content url="http://www.foo.com/movie.mov"; fileSize="12216320"
        playerUrl="http://www.foo.com/player?id=1111"; playerHeight="200"
        isDefault="true" expression="full" bitrate="128" duration="185">

    The attributes aren't namespace-qualified, yet aren't defined in the
    RSS 2.0 spec.

    Danny Ayers seems to think that the absence of a namespace name on an attribute is equivalent to the attribute being in some 'empty' namespace along with other types that are in no namespace in that vocabulary. That is actually incorrect. The best documentation to put one straight on how to consider to elements and attributes in today's age of XML namespaces is the W3C XML Schema Primer. The XML Schema recommendation is the primary specification which describes how defining XML vocabularies in a namespace aware manner is supposed to work.

    An attribute with an explicit namespace name (i.e. that has a prefix) is a global attribute which belongs to a particular vocabulary. There is only one declaration of an attribute with that name (namespace URI & local name pair) in the vocabulary. On the other hand, an attribute without a namespace name is scoped locally to the element it is declared on and is only defined in the context of that element. This means in a particular vocabulary multiple definitions of an attribute with a particular name can exist if it is un-namespaced since it is scoped locally to its owner element. 

    Since Danny Ayer's is the co-author of the upcoming book entitled Beginning RSS and Atom Programming  I hope he does some more research on designing XML vocabularies before the book is published. A lot of the power of RSS is the ability authors have of defining their own vocabularies as RSS modules and I'd hate to see a new generation of RSS module designers inherit a bunch of bad habits because they read the wrong stuff in a book.


    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

    While taking a lunch break I decided to finish up implementing full support for FeedDemon newspapers in RSS Bandit. With my checkin a few minutes ago it is now possible to use the various custom newspaper styles for FeedDemon in RSS Bandit and vice versa. More importantly one can now view all items in a feed at once in the reading pane instead of just reading them one at a time.

    Actually that is incorrect.

    My goal was that one should be able to view all items in a feed in the newspaper view. However it seems I hit some performance issues using the System.Xml.Xsl.XslTransform class in the .NET Framework. Applying a newspaper view on 3 months of posts in a high traffic feed such as the InfoWorld feed took 10 to 15 seconds to display which was a bit too long especially since other tasks would be going on in the background at the same time which would make it take even longer. So the compromise I reached was that clicking on the a feed node in the tree view shows only the unread posts in the newspaper view. Below are links to screenshots of various newspaper views running in RSS Bandit

    1. Outlook 2003 (RSS Bandit style)
    2. PopBox Blue (FeedDemon style)
    3. Headlines (FeedDemon style)
    4. Sticky Notes (one of Radek's FeedDemon styles)

    One thing I've noticed is that different feeds tend to benefit from different styles. For example, I'd prefer to read news sites like Wired or Slashdot with the Headlines style while I'd rather read traditional blogs with a style closer to Sticky Notes or PopBox Blue. This should be a fairly straightforward feature to add and the infrastructure code already exists. The question is whether any user besides me will utilize all this configurability. :)

    There is also the feature that FeedDemon has where clicking on a ".fdxsl" file from within the application automatically downloads and installs the style. Although convenient this seems like a security issue. This would mean that the file would be written to “C:\Program Files\RssBandit\templates” which may require running as Administrator. If we keep this feature we might have to move the templates to a user specific folder. What do you RSS Bandit users think?


    Categories: RSS Bandit

    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

    Paul Vick has an excellent post about white elephant projects at Microsoft entitled Black hole projects  where he writes

    I left Office just about the time that Netdocs really started going, but I do know a few people who invested quite a few years of their lives into it. I can't say that I know much more than Steve about it, but it did get me thinking about other "black hole projects" at Microsoft. There was one I was very close to earlier in my career that I managed not to get myself sucked into and several others that I just watched from afar. None I can really talk about since they never saw the light of day, but it did get me thinking about the peculiar traits of a black hole project. They seem to be:

    • They must have absurdly grandiose goals. Something like "fundamentally reimagine the way that people work with computers." Nobody, including the people who originate the goals, has a clear idea what the goals actually mean.
    • They must involve throwing out some large existing codebase and rewriting everything from scratch, "the right way, this time."
    • They must have completely unrealistic deadlines. Usually this is because they believe that they can rewrite the original codebase in much, much less time than it took to write that codebase in the first place.
    • They must have completely unrealistic beliefs about compatibility. Usually this takes the form of believing you can rewrite a huge codebase and preserve all of the little quirks and such without a massive amount of extra effort.
    • They are always "six months" from from major deadline that never seems to arrive. Or, if it does arrive, another milestone is added on to the end of the project to compensate.
    • They must consume huge amounts of resources, sucking the lifeblood out of one or more established products that make significant amounts of money or have significant marketshare.
    • They must take over any group that does anything that relates to their absurdly broad goals, especially if that group is small, focused, has modest goals and actually has a hope of shipping in a reasonable timeframe.
    • They must be prominently featured as demos at several company meetings, to the point where people groan "Oh, god, not another demo of this thing. When is it ever going to ship?"
    • They usually are prominently talked up by BillG publicly years before shipping/dying a quiet death.
    • They usually involve "componetizing" some monolithic application or system. This means that not only are you rewriting a huge amount of code, you're also splitting it up across one or more teams that have to all seamlessly work together.
    • As a result of the previous point, they also usually involve absolutely massive integration problems as different teams try madly to get their components working with each other.
    • They usually involve rewriting the application or system on top of brand-new technology that has not been proven at a large scale yet. As such, they get to flush out all the scalability problems with the new technology.
    • They are usually led by one or more Captain Ahabs, madly pursuing the white whale with absolute conviction, while the deckhands stand around saying "Gee, that whale looks awfully big. I'm not sure we can really take him down."
    • Finally, 90% of the time, they must fail and die a flaming death, possibly taking down or damaging other products with it. If they do ship, they must have taken at least 4-5 years to ship and be at least 2 years overdue.

    I'm kind of frightened at how easy it was to come up with this list - it all just kind of poured out. Looking back over 12.5 years at Microsoft, I'm also kind of frightened at how many projects this describes. Including some projects that are ongoing at the moment.

    Someone who works with me at MSN mentioned that there was a time the Netdocs team was larger than the entire Microsoft Office product unit combined. Scary. As Paul mentions, the sad thing is that there are projects like this that continue to exist at Microsoft even though everybody sees the signs and already knows how the story ends. In fact, you don't even have to work at Microsoft to be able to tell what some of these projects are.



    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

    December 12, 2004
    @ 06:56 PM

    I was just completely freaked out a few minutes ago. All of a sudden in the middle of editing some XSLT stylesheets I started to get a resonating hum similar to electronic interference in the base of my skull at regular intervals. I was about to call 911 when I realized it only happened when I was near my monitor or television and stopped when I turned them off. I called a friend and she mentioned that she'd heard that this sometimes happened to people with silver fillings in their teeth. Since I'd just got some dental work done about a week and a half ago I guessed this might have been some static electricity buildup. So I brushed my teeth and now I don't have the weird hum in my head while using the computer anymore.

    Unfortunately I couldn't find anything on Google about this.


    Categories: Ramblings

    Looking at the calendar I realized that I have two articles due this month, one for my Extreme XML column on MSDN and another that I promised XML.com a few months ago. I was reminded of this by the following excerpt from Ed Dumbill's recent article On Folly where he wrote

    Champion cited two developments of particular interest. The first is E4X, the addition of native XML capabilities to ECMAScript. An implementation of this in the Mozilla project is currently coming to fruition. The second development is "Comega" (aka "Cω"), an extension of C# including native XML data types. (Editor's Note: Watch XML.com for a forthcoming introduction to Comega from Dare Obasanjo.)

    So I'm on the hook for an overview of Cω. I started to wonder whether it wouldn't be cool if my Extreme XML column focused deeply on Cω while my XML.com article was an overview of both E4X and Cω. This would save me some effort in coming up with a separate topic for my Extreme XML column but should provide interesting information for both XMl.com readers and MSDN readers. What do you think?


    Categories: XML

    When I first started working on RSS Bandit I wanted an application that looked and acted as much like Microsoft Outlook as possible. Two years and over a hundred thousand downloads latter I realize that there are a number of drawbacks to using this model for reading feeds [or any information for that matter]. Mike Torres describes some of these reasons in his post Why I dig Bloglines, he writes

    Part of the problem for me is that applications that look and feel like Microsoft Outlook tend to make me feel like I am working, and I am immediately in "information overload" mode (we get hundreds of pieces of email each day at Microsoft.)  Catching up with friends, reading Scripting.com, or checking out Engadget shouldn't be tedious.  But for some reason, it was.  Until I switched to Bloglines.
    Anyway, here is what I like about Bloglines:

    • I can scan dozens of feeds in less than a minute.  With NewsGator for Outlook and other Outlook-style interfaces, it just simply took longer.  Probably because Bloglines shows me the feed in the way it is supposed to be presented - reverse chronological order on a single page.  Not as individual messages that I have to click through. 

    This is the bane of the current information viewing model paradigm favored by email and newsgroup readers which many RSS aggregators have decided to inherit. The major problem is that the Outlook mail reading paradigm has a fundamental assumption which turns out to be flawed. It assumes you want to read every item you get in your inbox. This flawed assumption leads to the kind of information overload that hampers the productivity of lots of people I know at work. I've met several people who seem to always have hundreds unread items in their email inbox. For this reason I always have to learn who's easier to reach via IM or swinging by their office in person than sending them mail.

    Most people I know get four classes of messages in their information aggregators (I am lumping reading email, reading news and reading RSS/Atom feeds into a single category). These are

    1. notifications (checkin mails, comments to my blog, etc)
    2. headlines (email newsletters, feeds from news sites, etc)
    3. messages sent directly to me or that is similarly relevant
    4. messages sent to an interest group I am a part of (XML-DEV mailing list, comp.text.xml newsgroup, etc)

    The problem is that the typical Outlook inspired information aggregator treats all of the above as being of equal relevance. Even though Outlook does provide mechanisms for managing assigning relevance to incoming messages, they are either hard to find or cumbersome to use.

    This is definitely one of the areas that needs to be improved in the world of information aggregators in general and RSS/Atom readers in particular. There are a number of features that I'm working on for the next version of RSS Bandit aimed at making it easier for people to consume information from various sources in a flexible manner according to what relevance they place on the information source.


    Torsten has been hard at work on the UI for managing newsgroups in the next version of RSS Bandit. Below is a screenshot of what is currently checked into CVS. We'd love to hear any comments you have.

    For example, the View menu behaves like a tabbed pane but we decided against tabs for some technical reasons. Is this confusing? Also I've suggested that we change the buttons on the top left named 'Identity' and 'News Server' to 'Add Identity' and 'Add News Server' to separate the fact that those buttons perform actions while the ones on the right act more like tabs in a tabbed pane. Agree? Disagree?

    Speaking of which I need to test the code that handles binary attachments so if you know any public news servers that allow you to subscribe to binary newsgroups, let me now. Unfortunately there aren't any binary newsgroups on news.microsoft.com.


    Categories: RSS Bandit

    Since I left the XML team at Microsoft they've gone on an impressive hiring spree. Two people who I'd have loved to work with who have joined up after I left are

    David Remy: former Director of Product Engineering at Bea Systems, he was responsible for security, web services, and XML for Bea's Weblogic Workshop product line.

    Mike Champion: formerly a research and development specialist at Software AG. He was on the W3C's Document Object Model (DOM) Working Group for over three years and was the co-chair of the Web Services Architecture Working Group.

    I have to see how quickly I can nag both of them to start blogging. David used to be in charge of the folks who produced XML Beans so I suspect he has all sorts of interesting perspectives on XML programming models. Mike and I have been exchanging mail on XML-DEV for years and now that we can have some of these conversations in person, I work across campus. Irony indeed. :)


    Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube | XML

    According to an article entitled 50 Cent Involved In Scuffle At Airport In Nigeria on AllHipHop.com 

    American Hip-Hop star 50 Cent was engaged in a scuffle with the entourage of another rapper in a Lagos, Nigeria airport last night. 50 Cent was in the African nation taking part in the annual Star Mega Jam, which brings top name talent to perform along side popular Nigerian artists.

    The incident started in an airplane belonging to the Aviation Development Company, before an aborted trip to Port Harcourt for a final performance. Eyewitnesses stated that Nigerian rapper Eedris Abdulkareem attempted to sit in a seat reserved for the internationally known 50 Cent, but was prevented from doing so.Abdulkareem’s entourage protested, resulting in a brawl inside the airplane.The scuffle carried on to the tarmac of the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammad Airport, drawing the attention of employee’s and other passengers.

    The rapper left without completing the performance due to the incident.

    That's kinda messed up. I'm just glad this happened after my mom got 50's autograph when she interviewed him.  


    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

    Don Smith continues our conversation on parameters to XML Web Service methods in his post Versioning Web Service Parameters where he writes

    Dare makes a few comments about one of my previous posts so I thought - in true blogsphere fashion - I'd follow-up in a new post.
    I think it's also important to make a distinction between different kinds of Web Services, even if they're broad and sweeping. There is a considerable difference between a service-oriented Web Service and one that is not service-oriented. Perhaps my choice of GetTemp( TempRequest ) was a poor one. Service-oriented operations are very course-grained because they represent a business process. Because of this, the service interface is not likely to change (unless the organization is going to stop offering the service). However, the data pieces that service will require could very possibly evolve over time. Therefore, it's important to be able to version the service interface and the parameters of the operations independently. If you agree at this point, then we need a way to identify what version of the operation's inputs are being used. The only way to accomplish this with multiple parameters is for one of the parameters, which has nothing to do with the business logic of the operation, to contain version information. With a single parameter, we can maintain a straightforward experience for the client developer.

    I agree with Don that his original example was probably not the best to illustrate his point. The problem I had with his original post was that it was a general recommendation which in my experience tend to never hold in most cases let alone all of them. The complexity of the service and the expected evolutionary path of the service end point should dictate whether the additional complexity of using a single parameter that contains versioning information and the actual input the method should be used or not.

    Since I tend to agree with the excerpted paragraph  about service oriented methods being coarse grained which implies that one should be able to version parameters, I think Don and I are now in violent agreement. :)


    Categories: XML Web Services

    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