Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Windows Live Groups predictions and “Active directory in the cloud”

with 6 comments

If you’ve been reading this blog lately you will have noticed my burgeoning interest in Windows Live Groups. The following posts all make mention of the product (which is currently vapourware):

From time-to-time I enjoy making pointless predictions about future products so I may as well do the same for the Windows Live product that is currently uppermost in my mind. They are assumptions based on things I have read but admittedly may also be tainted by some of my own suppositions. I look forward to the day when I find out whether or not the list below bears any resemblance to reality but I suspect that day won’t be with us any time soon.



I figure there will be two types of WL Groups which I’m referring to as public and private. Public groups will be closest to the existing MSN Groups – somewhere where people with matching interests can congregate online. Private groups will be owned and viewable by only one Live ID and will be akin to the contact groups that are commonly seen in Windows Live Messenger today.


People will always know if they are a member of a public group. They will not know if they are a member of a person’s private group.


Private groups will have a URI such as http://group-name.jamiethomson.groups.live.com whereas public group URIs will look like http://group-name.groups.live.com



A page that lists all of a person’s private groups and all the public groups that he/she is a member of will exist at a dedicated URL such as http://jamiethomson.groups.live.com. There will be a link to this page from the navigation bar in Live Spaces which currently contains links to ‘Spaces Home’, ‘Friends’, ‘Photos’, ‘Events’, ‘Skydrive’ & ‘Your Space’.



Membership of a public group can be completely open or be at the discretion of the person who created the group. Examples of public groups that might exist are:

  • Leeds United supporters
  • Microsoft MVPs.
  • Inhabitants of London
  • World of Warcraft players
  • XBox Live participants
  • Pottery enthusiasts

I’m making these up of course but hopefully it illustrates the type of groups that I envisage being created.



Public groups will have the option to contain a discussion forum just like MSN Groups and I suspect that the discussion forum functionality will be the same as that which currently exists on Live Events.


Unlike MSN Groups however I don’t think the discussion group will be the be-all and end-all of a Live Group. Public group owners will be able to customise the group home page using gadgets from the Live Gallery. The aforementioned discussion forum will be just another gadget that can be added to the page.



We, as users of Windows Live properties, will be able to assign permissions to our private groups. For example, instead of specifying a list of people that can view a Skydrive folder, a Live Calendar or my personal profile I will simply add those people into a private group and assign permission to that group. I can revoke a person’s access to all of those properties instantaneously simply by removing them from a group.



The previous prediction gives rise to the idea of Live Groups becoming something analogous to an "active directory in the cloud". This is a disruptive idea partly because it could become the mechanism by which Microsoft grant access to their online properties in the future.
Even more powerful is the idea that 3rd party websites that authenticate visitors using Live ID could use Live Groups to determine what each user can do on that site. Live Groups will become part of an authentication infrastructure that anyone in the world can leverage.



This "active directory in the cloud" idea relies on a robust API that allows a 3rd party site to add and remove people from groups.


"Active directory in the cloud" will allow us to define a group of groups rather than a group of Live IDs.


This "active directory in the cloud" idea is the most outlandish proposal here, partly because its very far removed from what MSN Groups is today. In order to articulate my ideas around this I’m going to outline some hypothetical scenarios where this could prove to be useful.


The 3rd party website

Suppose for a minute that you wanted to embark on an online betting venture where you build a rival to Partybets.com or betfair.com. In order to know who your site visitors are you need to authenticate them. Once authenticated you want to define what each user can do on your site; in this simple example we want to categorise people by the maximum bet that we will allow them to place, £10, £100 or £1000.
This site could leverage Live ID authentication and Live Groups to manage this authentication and categorisation infrastructure. The site could also define a fourth group "All users" which is simply a union (i.e. a group of groups) of the three user-categorisation groups.


Windows Live beta testers

Access to a Windows Live beta program will be defined by membership of a Live Group, for example http://WLCalendar-beta-testers.groups.live.com. Another group "All beta testers" would be a group containing all of those Windows Live property specific groups. The idea could also be extended to define Microsoft Connect participations.
The "group of groups" idea could also be leveraged to easily grant beta access to specific groups of people such as MVPs or internal dogfooders.


Discussion forum categories

Microsoft run many different discussion forums, the one I frequent in my capacity as a SQL Server MVP is the SSIS forum on the MSDN forums. I have noticed that some people on the forums are tagged as "moderators". Clearly the forum administrators manage this categorisation internally but this management could be made easier by leveraging "active directory in the cloud". Who knows, maybe each forum will become a Live Group of its own?


Editing a public calendar

I believe that one key capability of Windows Live Groups will be the ability to display gadgets and one use of gadgets could be to display a calendar pertinent to that group. For example, I mentioned earlier that a Live Group could exist for Leeds United supporters. Would it not make sense to display a fixture list, implemented as a Windows Live Calendar, on the group home page and then specify that only members of the group can view or edit it?
If you apply the same idea to local communities and organisations such as charities, church groups, amateur dramatics societies, local sports clubs, small employers and many other organisations that don’t have the capability to host all of this information themselves then the capabilities of Windows Live Groups becomes very compelling indeed.

I realise that my ideas here around a hosted "Active directory in the cloud" are a little leftfield but it is Microsoft’s commitment to supporting 3rd party developers that makes me believe this is going to happen. I hope I’ve managed to successfully articulate why handing-off this management of authentication and categorisation infrastructure is such a compelling concept and, more than that, I hope Microsoft have had the same ideas and are making good on them.



Written by Jamiet

January 4, 2008 at 3:21 am

Posted in Live Groups

6 Responses

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  1. I like the idea of private and public groups. I also hope that MS implement Live Groups soon. I wonder if when they do the existing MSN groups will transition to the Live brand and updated technology?


    January 5, 2008 at 11:52 pm

  2. Jamie, this is an absolutely brilliant hypothesis of what WL Groups may become someday! Obviously, the initial launch fell far short of it, but it’s still possible to evolve private groups that enable your idea of AD in the cloud. I’m guessing most casual readers will fail to see the potential here (What’s all this about private groups? How can anyone participate if it’s private to me? Isn’t a group just supposed to be a discussion board?). I think that within a few release cycles, the WL Groups of today will be totally different. You did a great job of articulating a number of very valid reasons why (and how) WL Groups needs to mature along these lines.


    January 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm

  3. Greg,Thanks for that, I’m glad someone can see the same vision. I need to articulate this into another post – chiefly there needs to be some sort of Groups API for this.-Jamie


    January 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm

  4. Please create a short guide to creative "public (open) live groups"that neither require the admin (me) to add participants nor approve those who would apply — as it stands now

    good to too

    January 19, 2009 at 8:11 am

  5. good to too,that’s not possible right now unfortunately.-jamie


    January 20, 2009 at 8:13 am

  6. […] APIs … those are the big plays here and is very much like what I described in my blog post Windows Live Groups predictions and “Active directory in the cloud”. The names and players have changed but the concepts I outlined there are now happening. Back then […]

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