Windows Live Groups is (almost) here
I’m writing this slightly ahead of time but by the time you come to read it the news should have reached the airwaves that Windows Live Essentials (what used to be called Windows Live wave 3) is almost upon us. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to Windows Live Essentials and the associated online services in a private beta and now that they have been announced I’m finally able to talk about one of my favourite features, Windows Live Groups.
I started talking about Windows Live Groups about a year ago when, with my ear firmly to the ground, I began to pick up snippets of information that I cobbled together into a series of blog entries that culminated in Windows Live Groups predictions and "Active directory in the cloud" that I wrote on 4th January . In that blog entry I speculated about how we were would have the notion of private and public groups of Windows Live users; private groups being those that only I know about and contain only people in my network whereas public groups would be just that, groups available publicly on the web that anyone with a Windows Live ID could opt to join. Specifically I said:
I figure there will be two types of Windows Live 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.
Nearly a year later it turns out that I wasn’t far off the mark, I just got the terminology slightly awry. What I called private groups are actually known as “Categories” – groups of your contacts that you form yourself and only you know about. Categories are in fact exactly the same as contact groups in Messenger 8.5 so I was spot on with that one. They can be created and altered within Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Mail or on the web at Windows Live People* all of which you can see in the following screenshots:
Any changes that we make in the Windows Live Essentials suite of apps are instantly reflected in the online world – I love this tight integration between the different apps and web properties, I’ve heard a whisper that that is what they call “software plus services”!
Categories are not the big story here though, that honour goes to the new Windows Live Groups which you see at http://groups.live.com*.
[By the way, ff you know any Leeds United fans or people that in Sunbury-on-Thames then let me know.]
Windows Live Groups offer a way for people to congregate and interact around a common interest. Ostensibly that doesn’t sound too different to MSN Groups, the service that Windows Live Groups has replaced, but if you peel back the covers then there are some important differences. Most obviously groups with 20 or less members now show up in Windows Live Messenger which effectively turns Messenger into a chatroom client.
The online experience offers four ways of interacting with your fellow groups members:
- Via a discussion forum
- By sharing photos
- By sharing files
- Via a shared calendar
all of which are accessible from the front page of the group (accessible at http://<group-name>.groups.live.com/). Here’s what that page looks like:
Just like the new Windows Live home page (more on that in a later blog post) each group has a “What’s New” feed showing most recent activity. Each of these updates also appears on your overall “What’s New” feed at http://home.live.com* and I’m told that an aggregated “What’s New” feed of all activity in the groups that you are a member of will appear at http://groups.live.com. Similarly the calendars associated with each of your groups now show up at http://calendar.live.com.
Again, its this tight integration with other Windows Live properties which really gets me excited about Windows Live Groups and everything else in this latest release. For the first time Windows Live has achieved what it has always threatened to be, a single cohesive online/offline experience rather than a hotchpotch of disparate services and tools.
This has been an introduction to the forthcoming Windows Live Groups service, over the next few weeks I’ll introduce some of the other new services that are coming as part of the Windows Live Essentials release.
*At the time of writing these URLs are not open to the general public, but they soon will be!