All entries for Thursday 02 December 2004

December 02, 2004

MSN Spaces (Microsoft blogging tool)

Writing about web page http://spaces.msn.com

So, Microsoft has finally jumped on the band wagon (a bit late if you ask me) with their newly launced MSN Spaces service.

First thing I noticed when signing up with my existing Passport account is that it is slow as a dog. I'm guessing this is due to it just being launched, but it is still surprising to see it so slow.

Signing up is a simple process of filling out a title and picking a url. You can then just get started or delve into deeper customisation.

Customisation

Clicking "Customize" takes you to a style picker which has around 30 different designs. You also get to choose which different items get to appear in the different columns of your blog. A tick box list lets you select from stuff such as:

  1. Categories
  2. Archives
  3. Profile
  4. Photo album
  5. Book list

You also get to choose how many columns you have and where each of the above items appears in that list. Unsurprisingly IE6 users get to choose layout dynamically and see changes live whereas us poor Firefox users have to wait for a submit/refresh (we all know Firefox can't do clever stuff).

I would say I got to try this out, but getting this message on submitting was not promising:

The MSN Spaces network is being upgraded and is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Lists

Right, it's working again. Next thing to try out is the custom lists. This is very similar to the TypePad TypeLists, but not as nice because Spaces does not really do anything clever or help you out with the lists. You just enter a title/description/url/artist and so on to build a list. There are music/book/blog/custom type lists, but they don't really do much, no nice ISBN lookup or Amazon integration or anything. Shame really.

Hmm, scratch that. Although there is no help in searching for items to put in the lists. There is in fact some form of integration when displaying the lists. For the music, it basically just links to a search on the MSN Music website (run by OD2).

Creating entries

As for creating entries, the most basic and important aspect of creating a blog, it couldn't really be much simpler. There is simple a title field, a category drop down (with pre-defined categories and the ability to add new ones), the main body of the entry (a simple textarea) and that is about it. You can publish, save as draft or cancel. A little note at the bottom says:

Some HTML tags may be removed from your entry for security and formatting reasons.

That rings a bell. I wonder what they've done.

Hmm, that is annoying. There is no auto line breaking or paragraph support. You have to specifically put in your own br's and p's. That could be a problem for newbies.
Once published, entries look pretty normal with comments/trackbacks/date/permalink all listed under the entry.

Settings

There is quite a lot hidden underneath the "Settings" menu option. These all come under the heads of:

  • Space settings.
    Titles, date formats, time zones, RSS option.
  • Blog settings
    Archiving, comment and trackback options and categories
  • Permissions
    You can set your entire blog to be completely public, completely private or only viewable by people on your MSN Messenger buddies list. There is no per-entry permissions.
  • Mobile settings
    You can setup the facility to have entries published from your phone via email.
  • Storage
    Looks like there is 10MB worth of space, looks like it is only your photos in your photo albums are taken into account here.
  • Statistics
    Total page views, page views today, page views this week, page views within the last hour, a list of every single hit.

Profile page

Each user can have a profile page which it looks like is mostly auto-generated from your MSN info, some of which I really don't remember giving to them! Editting this takes you to the generic MSN member directory profile editor.

Photo albums

Strangely, I can only seem to be able to upload photos from within creating entries. Even going to the photo album screen (which shows you a nice slideshow) does not allow you to upload new images. It is pretty basic, you literally just upload a file from your system with no options for titles/descriptions/etc. I guess this makes things nice and simple, but might be restrictive for some. (On further investigation, surprise surprise, there are more photo upload options with IE because they use an ActiveX control! Sigh.)

Conclusion

It is clear that Microsoft have done quite a bit of work on this system, borrowing a lot of good features from every other blog system under the sun, nothing really new. The layout customisation is nice, but everything else is pretty standard or even sub-standard. I'm sure the system will improve, but at the moment it seems full of features, but each of those features is very basic in itself.

It'll be interesting to see what impact this has on the other blogging providers out there once they get themselves established, more reliable and performant.

The official word

According to the Microsoft press release MSN Introduces New Communication Service That Enables Blogging, Picture Sharing and More

The MSN Spaces beta version is a free service available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide. MSN Spaces was designed to make it easy for consumers to create and maintain a personal Web site, bringing the power and benefits of blogging to millions of Internet users, regardless of their level of technical expertise. More than a blogging tool, MSN Spaces is a dynamic online scrapbook where consumers can share photo albums, personal music lists and more. And more than an ordinary personal Web site, through seamless integration with MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail, MSN Spaces will automatically notify online contacts when a person's Space has been updated so his or her online community knows when it is time to pay a visit. People can sign up for MSN Spaces through MSN Messenger or by going to http://spaces.msn.com. Key features of the service include the following:

  • Control your Space. Consumers can choose the people who visit their Space through three levels of permissions: public, MSN Messenger contacts only or private.
  • Use pictures and music to say more. MSN Spaces enable consumers to easily display their pictures via a photo album slide show. Consumers can easily share playlists through their Space with Microsoft® Windows Media® technologies. With just two clicks, people can sample or purchase a song on someone's playlist through MSN Music**.
  • Create an extension of yourself. Contact Cards – a new addition to MSN Messenger and Hotmail – are windows into a consumer's Space, mirroring its look and the most recent information posted. MSN Spaces also supports RSS, so consumers can publish their Space to others by way of RSS viewers and aggregators – including My MSN, coming soon.
  • Post remote updates. Consumers can post updates to their Space remotely via e-mail or a mobile phone.
  • Make it your own. Fifteen custom backgrounds and five layout templates give consumers a way to quickly customize and personalize their Space.

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