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

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

Our data is everywhere

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

Graph illustrating where we store our photos

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

We're putting it all out there

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

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

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

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

Graphic comparing communication choices

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

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

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

Emails with Photo Attachments and Messenger Social

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

On the web:

On the desktop:


Emails from your Social Networks and Messenger Social

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

in the Messenger Social feed.

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

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

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Categories: Social Software | Windows Live

One of my favorite things we built in Wave 4 of Windows Live is now available. You can now download Windows Live for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad from the US app store. You can also get it from the France, UK and Canadian app stores. The app kicks serious butt and I use it every day.

The official spiel is as follows

Windows Live Messenger for iPhone and iPod Touch is the best way to connect with the people that matter most and keep up with the things they are doing across the web. Use your iPhone to instant message your friends list, view and comment on your friends’ photos and status updates from Windows Live, Facebook, and MySpace, and at a glance, see what your Messenger friends are sharing from Flickr, YouTube, and many other social and photo sharing sites. Make sure to visit today and setup Windows Live to bring in your social networks. Messenger is simply the best way to connect with your closest friends.

Instant message with your Windows Live Messenger and Y! Messenger contacts on the go so you’re always connected to the people that matter most. You can even receive IM notifications when your app is closed so you never miss a message.

Windows Live Messenger gives you one place to view the updates your Messenger friends are sharing from social networks like Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and more, helping you cut through the clutter on the go.

Upload photos right from your phone to share your favorite moments with the people that matter most. Create albums, add captions, and let your friends and family comment on your photos.

Access your Hotmail account without leaving the app to read, reply to, and compose emails. Get email notifications within the application so you know when you have new messages.

For me, push notifications when I get new IMs is the killer feature. I used to think IM was dead on smartphones until I used this app and realized that the problem was really lack of an IM client with push notifications. If you use Windows Live Messenger, you need to cop this app today. If you need further convincing here are some pretty pictures

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Categories: Windows Live

Over the past year or so, I’ve been part of the team working on building the next version of the social news feed on Windows Live. Yesterday, the next iteration of this feature was made broadly available on and As I look back at the work we’ve done there are a number of things I love about the philosophy behind what we’ve built and the actual features we’ve implemented.

The above screenshot shows the header for Messenger Social feed on the Windows Live home page and captures a number of it’s key concepts.

Highlights from your Favorite People

One of the key problems we want to address with this release is the conflicting feelings of information overload from getting a flood of minutiae on a daily basis from people you’d barely consider acquaintances and the feeling of not seeing enough stuff from the people you actually care about because they are being drowned out by other less important people. The way we’ve approached this problem is described on the Messenger Preview site and excerpted below

Because most people today use a variety of social networks and content sharing sites, with different sets of friends and acquaintances dispersed throughout these disparate networks, it can be challenging — and exhausting — to visit different websites and create different accounts just to keep abreast of your friends’ updates. But it isn’t just about bringing all that data together. What’s really valuable is helping you filter through the clutter and get to those updates you really care about — the ones from those people who you communicate with most frequently. There are a lot of intelligent algorithms and machine learning that can help in this, but we’ve found one of the best ways is to simply ask people. So, Windows Live Messenger will come right to the source — YOU — and ask you to specify your favorites:

The Highlights filter shows the most interesting recent content from your social network and strives to ensure you are kept up to date with updates from your favorites even if they aren’t posting a mile a minute like some of your more active social networking friends.


The screenshot above captures what this means in practice. Since Omar is one of my favorites, his updates show up ahead of updates from even though his are several hours older than those from the Mint fan page. We learned from experience that although a number of people find the Highlights filter to be a valuable way to cut through the clutter and view the most interesting updates from their social network, there are also times when we have time to kill and don’t mind swimming in the full stream. For those times, we also have a Recent filter which provides the classic reverse chronological view of a stream of updates from your social network.

People-centric not Service-centric

The fundamental idea behind social software is that it enables people to connect with other people. When we first shipped the feed in Wave 3, it was a key part of our design philosophy that we would bring together updates from multiple services into a single experience that emphasized your friends not the services where the data was coming from. One consequence of this is that updates from multiple services are shown in a single stream as shown in the screenshot from the previous section. We don’t provide tabs for multiple services because at the end of the day, what’s important to me is seeing what my friends said today not what my Windows Live friends said versus what my Facebook friends said. Instead our filters enable users to decide how they want to see updates from all of their friends as opposed to making service-centric distinctions.

Another nice touch is that once I’ve connected a service such as Facebook to Windows Live (more on that below) when I see an update from a friend in my feed, not only do I have the options of communicating with him or viewing his data on Windows Live but also communicating with him via that service as well. 

and when I click “Send a message (Facebook)” above, it actually takes me to Facebook to send Omar a message via their messaging feature.

Bi-Directional Connections to Where your Friends are

In our previous release, we had a feature called Web Activities which enabled users to share the activities they performed on other sites such as Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and others with their friends on Windows Live. A consistent bit of feedback we got was that people wanted our integration with other sites to be much deeper. They wanted to be able see what their friends where doing regardless of what network they were on and interact with their content. They also wanted to be able to share content with their friends regardless of what network they were on as well. In short, our customers wanted interoperability, not just data portability. With our current release we have obliged in spades…

When you first interact with the Messenger Social experience we ask you to connect your favorite services to Windows Live so you can see what your friends are up to all over the Web and share what you’re doing on other sites with your friends on Windows Live. If you got the prompt above when visiting and clicked through to Facebook, you’d see the following options to create bidirectional data flows between Facebook and Windows Live.

As I mentioned before, this isn’t about “portability” and asking your friends to leave Facebook for Windows Live. Instead it is about allowing both sites to interoperate in a way that enables Windows Live users to stay in touch with their friends without either set of users having to switch services. Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social networking service we interoperate with in this manner as you can tell from the following screen shot


With these connections made, I not only get to see what my friends are doing across MySpace and Facebook from within Windows Live but can also broadcast my thoughts to them from within Windows Live as well.

Shortly after our features were made available yesterday I created the following status update

which caused that update to be shared to both my Messenger friends and my Facebook friends (see the handy iconography in the bottom right). You can see the results from both sites below

On Facebook On Windows Live

There’s more good stuff in the release as stuff rolls out across Windows Live and I’ll be writing more about what we’ve built in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.

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Categories: Social Software | Windows Live