Microsoft Windows Live takes on Facebook-like qualities

Microsoft aims to turn its Windows Live portal into something more like a social-networking site with features it will add to the next major update of its online services and applications.

Companies are spending billions of dollars on social networking.

Windows Live users will be able to let people they’ve designated as “friends” see activities they are doing in other Web applications through Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger and other Live applications and services, said Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Windows Live at Microsoft.

“We are integrating the notions of social networking, e-mail and instant messaging into a consistent experience,” he said.

The capabilities will be similar to the way Facebook allows users to be notified via e-mail or on its Web site about what their friends have been doing in the applications they use on Facebook, a feature called the “news feed.”

The changes are due to be released before the end of the year, although some applications, such as Windows Live Hotmail, have already been updated to the next version, Jones said.

To provide the new “activities” feature, Microsoft has partnered with popular third-party Web sites to link their applications with Windows Live, including Flickr, iLike, LinkedIn, Yelp, Flixster, Pandora, Twitter, Photobucket and Tripit.

Jones provided an example to show how the activity notifications will be shared across third-party applications. If a Windows Live user posts new images to the Flickr photo-sharing site, their “friends” will be notified when they send that Windows Live user an e-mail, he said. This notification will appear on the page that confirms the e-mail has been sent, and will also include a link to the photos.

One site noticeably absent from the list of partners is Facebook, in which Microsoft bought a US$240 million equity stake. Jones said the company has had “conversations” with Facebook, but they are not a partner at this time.

That may be because Microsoft sees Facebook as a competitor as it tries to make its Windows Live home page an operating environment of sorts for Web users. By getting users to make Windows Live their first point of entry to the Web and use as many Windows Live services as possible, Microsoft has a chance to sell more online ads and gain mindshare among Web users.

Google is trying to do something similar with its iGoogle portal and related services. And so is Yahoo, which, like Microsoft, will add social-networking capabilities to its online services and hopes to make them the entry point to the Web for many users.

Charlene Li, founder of the analyst firm Altimeter Group, said Microsoft’s decision to add social-networking capabilities makes sense as a way to help it retain Hotmail and instant-messaging users and prevent them from jumping to Google or Yahoo. Eventually it may also help Microsoft make more money from advertising by getting people to use more of its services.

In another effort to improve the user experience with the next version of Windows Live, Microsoft will also integrate the contacts list for Windows Live across Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Hotmail, Outlook and Windows Live Calendar, Jones said.

It will also make changes to its Windows Live Photo Gallery and related Photos service to make it easier for people to publish, share and print photos, he said.

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