Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Archive for March 2009

Windows Live Groups pushes out an update

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At some point over the past week some changes were quietly pushed out regarding the way that activity from Windows Live Groups gets exposed in our What’s New feed at http://home.live.com. Here’s a screenshot from my What’s New feed today:

imageThat’s new. Upon release of Windows Live Groups we got notifications about new group discussion threads but we did not get notifications about replies. Don’t underestimate this small change, I expect it to be instrumental in making Windows Live Groups more active. No longer do we need to go and check each and every discussion thread in every group to see if there have been replies hence this has a huge impact on the usability of Windows Live Groups.

Indeed, back in January I posted Laundry list of wants for Windows Live wave 4 where I said:

I only see notifications in my What’s New feed if someone posts a new thread in one of my Groups, I don’t see notifications of replies to threads. I’d like that to change.

My sentiments were echoed by many other Windows Live users so kudos to the Windows Live team for listening and taking such swift action.

 

Incidentally, the first person I know of that noticed this was Jeffrey who, suitably so, posted a discussion thread about it on the All Things Live group.

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 24, 2009 at 9:53 am

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Virtual Earth Silverlight map control

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As I write I’m sat in Los Angeles airport contemplating events at MIX09 where I have spent the past week. Lots of interesting stuff, a couple of Live Services related announcements, but the thing that caught my attention most of all was the Virtual Earth Silverlight map control which is now available to developers as a community technology preview (CTP) at https://connect.microsoft.com/silverlightmapcontrolctp/.

I used to write about maps quite a lot on this blog but haven’t for a long time because frankly there wasn’t much to talk about; that all changes with this new Virtual Earth Silverlight control though which brings Deepzoom ability to maps. The session at MIX was given by Virtual Earth evangelist Chris Pendleton who did some absolutely fantastic demos that illustrated how Virtual Earth combined with Silverlight really is a gamechanger in online mapping; there’s just so much more than can be done using client-side compiled code rather than the AJAX maps that we see all over the web today.

The demo that most caught my eye was one where he clicked on the United States and a video of an Obama speech was displayed within the United States borders on the map. I can’t really do it justice in words but trust me – it was an awesome demo and Chris has posted a screenshot on his blog post MIX 2009 Wrap Up and Virtual Earth Session Replay. If you want more, go and watch the video of his session: http://videos.visitmix.com/MIX09/T34F (fast forward to 44:08 for the Obama video)

I can’t wait to see websites deployed with the VE Silverlight web control embedded in them, I hope we’ll see it used at http://maps.live.com.

There was a QnA session at the end of Chris Pendleton’s presentation and he was asked whether Bird’s Eye view and 3D would in the future be supported in the Silverlight web control like they are in the current AJAX control. His answer was something along the lines of “I can’t talk about futures but we’re working on something big for 3D.” The mind boggles!

By the way, I really should give mention here to my friend (and Liveside blogger) John O’Brien who, up to now, has done a sterling job with the Deepearth Silverlight web control that showcases a lot of the abilities that the official Virtual Earth Silverlight web control will soon bring forth. I fear his efforts may soon be overshadowed by this, Microsoft’s own version, however I suspect he won’t mind too much!

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

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Web messenger in Hotmail is back. But for how long?

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As Liveside have been following the web Messenger feature of Hotmail has been intermittently appearing and subsequently disappearing over the past few months. Well, I’ve just signed-in to Hotmail and the feature is there – plain as day:

imageHaving said that, whilst writing this email (and chatting to Kip who wrote the above linked to blog entry on Liveside) it unexpectedly logged me out and now it won’t let me back in:

image

Hopefully that’s just a teething problem and web messenger is here to stay this time. Does anyone else have the web messenger feature available?

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 22, 2009 at 12:13 am

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Hotmail Quick Add

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One of the new features of Windows Live wave 3 that I haven’t seen any coverage of yet is the “Quick Add” feature of Hotmail so I’ll take you on a tour of it in this blog entry. When you compose a new email in Hotmail the “Quick Add” bar will appear on the right-hand-side:

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The enables you to conduct searches (using Live Search) and embed the results into your email so let me show you an example of that!

 

Imagine I’m writing an email to my friends to try and arrange a meal and I want to suggest a restaurant that we can go to. Let’s hit the “Restaurants” button in the Quick Add box and search for Italian restaurants (because I do love Pizza):

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The results get displayed in the Quick Add bar. We get plenty of results back from that and moreover (here’s what I really like) they’re all really close to where I’m sat right now composing this email. I’m on London’s Southbank and all of those restaurants are within reach:

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I think I want to go for Carluccios so I hit the “More Info” link and I get a new page from Live Search showing me more details, reviews and a map to the restaurant:

image

 

OK, I’m happy with Carluccios so back in the Quick Add bar I hit “Insert” and all the info is entered into my email along wit a link to all the details:

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And that’s it, job done – that’s very cool indeed. I think I’ll be using this feature a lot.

 

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 21, 2009 at 4:49 pm

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Marking activity feeds as read

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Here at MIX I just listened to a panel discussion called “Standards for aggregating activity feeds and social aggregation services” involving Luke Shephard (from Facebook), Monica Keller (MySpace), John McCrea (Plaxo), Kevin Marks (Google), Marc Canter (Broadband Mechanics) and chaired by Dare Obasanjo (Microsoft). Whilst listening in I had an idea that I put forward to the panel that seemed to be received fairly well so figured I would air it here and see if it got any feedback.


It strikes me that the rise and rise of social networking services (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter); some of which also do social aggregation (e.g. FriendFeed, Windows Live); have created a problem where the activity of myself and my friends gets broadcast via and to all of these disparate services and we’re left floundering in a sea of repetitiveness where I log into one service (e.g. FriendFeed) and see almost exactly the same activity that I saw a few minutes ago in a different service (e.g. Windows Live). Nobody invented that bad user experience, its just a consequence of of the plethora of services that we all frequent and share our activity with.

There is a way to solve this problem. The activity feeds that are broadcasted by all of these various services are currently all one-way. In other words, you can consume the data in these activity feeds but you can’t send any information back to say “I’ve already read this” and that is what I’d like to see changed. There is no technical reason why (for example) Friendfeed can’t send a message back to Twitter saying “Jamie read some particular Twitter status on FriendFeed at 13:30” and that information then gets included in the Twitter activity feed.

Once that information is freely available in the Twitter activity feed then another client (e.g. Windows Live or TweetDeck) could use it to provide a better user experience, for example giving the user the option to only see statuses that haven’t already been read.


There was mention during the panel discussion that standards are currently in the process of getting defined for activity feeds and Luke Shephard suggested I get involved with various standards bodies and moot this idea in those circles but err… well… thinking about this stuff aint my day job I’m afraid so I don’t really have time nor the reputation to make this happen (unlike the panellists). What can I say though…watch this space. If there was a way I could be involved in such a discussion then I’d love for that to happen.

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 20, 2009 at 12:25 am

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IE8 submission re-opened

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Back in March 2008 I posted a suggestion to the Internet Explorer Connect site called Web Slice Gadgets which went something like this:

Web Slices are a method for packaging up small portions of data from the internet and making them easily available. Well to me, that sounds a lot like what gadgets are for.
The advantage of gadgets is that you don’t have to open a web browser in order to view them like you do with Web Slices. On the other hand the advantage of Web Slices is that you don’t need to be a software developer in order to build one. Hence, wouldn’t it make sense to combine the two? Let me store Web Slices on my Windows Vista Sidebar or as web gadgets on Live.com/Live Spaces.


Taking the idea a bit further, Web Slices could be leveraged elsewhere:
-Perhaps we could build a personalised Popfly block based on a Web Slice? Or perhaps they could be a source of a Yahoo Pipe?
-Web Slices could be synced to our mobile phones
-Maybe Web Slices could live as a tab on Windows Live Messenger
-Best of all, Web Slices could be defined centrally on Windows Live Horizon and synced to multiple devices

N.B. “Windows Live Horizon” is what is now known as Live Mesh

 

A day later I got the usual banal reply “Thank you for your feedback. We will consider this in a future version of IE” and the submission got closed. Imagine my surprise then when today the submission got re-activated – that has never happened to me before and I submit a lot of Connect submissions for a lot of technologies. It seems too much of a coincidence for that to happen on the same day that IE8 gets released (I actually got the notification email as I was sat in Dean Hachamovitch’s MIX keynote where IE8 release got announced) so I’m wondering why exactly this has happened. Are the IE team already planning for the next release I wonder? Surely a release party is in order first?

Answers on a postcard… I actually find it rather intriguing. Here’s hoping that I have some more information on this soon.

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 19, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What will happen to www.live.com?

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There’s lots of talk around at the minute about how Microsoft’s Live Search service is soon going to be re-branded, possibly as Kumo. If you want to read more about that then, as ever, Liveside has been following the story closely.

I assume that whatever Live Search does end up being called that the URL will change and that got me thinking; what is going to happen to the current URL, http://www.live.com? That’s an incredibly valuable web property and I’m sure Microsoft won’t want to waste it by simply redirecting visitors to their new search site.

Given that there are now many “live” branded services from Microsoft (offhand I can think of Windows Live, Office Live & XBox Live) I am guessing that http://www.live.com will become a gateway to all of those services. By that I mean it will become a menu of all the live offerings, a place where you can pick and choose what you want to go and partake in. There’s actually a massive opportunity there – an opportunity to sell a “live” lifestyle, one in which Microsoft wants to be an integral part of course. www.live.com becomes the home of your live lifestyle, perhaps in a similar way that Yahoo.com does.

The trouble with that of course is that there are already numerous other URLs under the live.com domain that are trying to be your home page; http://home.live.com & http://my.live.com are obvious examples. Do Microsoft really want to muddy the waters anymore by introducing another? For sure this is something they have to get right first time and I hope there’s a team already in the planning stages for the future www.live.com.

In case they are after any ideas here are some of mine.

For starters I don’t want it to be more bait for their search engine; I’d rather have content that I like pushed to me rather than being invited to go and find it. I don’t want that digital content to be just from MSN either, Microsoft must accept that there are other people out there producing content just as good, if not better, than theirs.

I want my web home page to be useful, much more than any of the options are today; I want it to show me pertinent information. For example, if there’s a TV program coming on soon that I might have indicated that I like (be it implicitly or explicitly) then tell me about it. If a band I like has announced a gig near my house – tell me about it. If one of my friends from out of town is going to be in the area – tell me about it. Most importantly, don’t show me stuff that I’m NOT interested in like most sites do today (http://home.live.com is the top offender in this area). Personalisation hasn’t come a long way since the web was first introduced in the early 90s, there are still huge strides to be made.

How about you? What do you think will be on www.live.com in the future and, moreover, what do you WANT on there?

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

March 13, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized