5 Absolutely annoying aspects of Live Spaces

Live Spaces is fine enough, but there’s many annoying issues I’ve been hoping the Spaces team would resolve for a long time. Here they are:

1. Usage of the "Communicate Preference Settings" – For some reason, even if a person does not enable other people to communicate with him or herself, that person can communicate with ANYONE. So when a person like I tries to respond back to a message, I get this:

                                                

What a joke! So this guy can communicate with me whenever he feels like it, but I can’t respond back? So why should this guy enable one-way communication with people, but won’t allow other people to respond?

My fix : People can only send messages if they too can receive messages from other people.

2. Spam – It’s practically everywhere on Live Spaces. Usually by some Chinese guys. It’s annoying have to go to edit mode of a blog post just to get rid of it, but it’s also annoying that you can’t easily report these spammers with stupid links to nowhere. Some Spaces users (looking directly at the people that run Live team blogs) don’t even get rid of the spam. It just sits there forever piling up the comment section and looks atrocious. Image below is taken from an entry of the OneCare Safety Scanner blog.

                                                                       

My fix : Enable a report/block button next to users names in the comment section, and have someone maintain this.

3. Usage of Categories and NOT Tags – Should it be that hard to be able to search for blog entries with a quick tag? Tags do a much better job of labeling contents of a blog post, then categorizing them under just one group. There’s also a limit of 25 categories you can make. So this is very convenient, and a tagging solution might be way more helpful. For that reason, I don’t use Categories.

My fix : Drop the Categories, Enable tagging. Welcome to Web 2.0

4. "Sorry, you can’t view this space" – Even if I’m considered one of your "friends"? I have several "friends" whose Spaces I can’t view for some reason. I have to write an explanation why, like in this screen snapshot:

                                                                    

It’s not as I added this person. This person added me, yet I can’t view this person’s Space. What a joke.

5. Lots of clicking and page reloads – Live Spaces loves to reload a page when you do something as simple as adding a comment, or deleting comments, editing just one module, among other tasks. How hard is it to code the site to easily make changes to something without having to reload the page and wait? I shouldn’t have to navigate around a lot to do something oh-so simple with so many clicks. A simple task does not need to reload the page 7 times to get it done. What a hassle.

Overall. those are the main quirks I have with Live Spaces. Hopefully someone will listen and fix these problems.                                        

No Space. No Profile Picture. No Communication. No being Friends with me.

This is something personal I want to issue. And this might not apply to everyone. But if your one of my "friends" that I’ve added, I ask that you either have a real Live Space I can look at, a simple profile picture, and have commented or communicated with me sometime.

                                                                                     

I honestly do not want a list of "friends" that have none of these. Your more like a ghost or invisible person if you don’t have these. I don’t know why you would want to be friends with me, if I can’t even try with you. It’s really creepy, and I’m already starting to crack down on the friend issue.

So if you’re my friend on Live Space, prove it by doing something. I will DEFINITELY get rid of people right off the bat that have none of these things. And I might toss out more if they lack too much. So this is a warning.

Comment more often and that will also score you some brownie points. So this is just a warning post.

Live Search Books and Live Search Academic are coming to an end

Well Satya Nadella has just confirmed that Live Search Books and Academic are going down the drain. If you didn’t know, Live Search Books is a special search vertical for finding books (in/out of print) and viewing, searching, and even downloading inside them. Live Search Academic is a special search vertical to easily find scholarly articles, conference proceedings, theses, and other dissertations.

             

 

Now they’re going to be gone. I’m a bit surprised, because I thought Live Book and Academic were pretty great in quality, compared to Google Books and Scholar. Live’s were more simple and straightforward to use, clean, and the way you could view the results was nice.

Notes about Live Search Books (LSB) :

  • LSB (search part) had two simple panes – Left pane for results, right pane to view brief overview of the book
  • A result in LSB was viewable in two simple panes – Left pane contained simple book info. with a search box, and search results right under (search results came right into the box, without reloading page) as well as links to purchase online or find at a library. Right pane contained the book pages itself that you easily sift through.
  • Search terms were highlighted green in the pages of the book (very easy to spot)
  • Bar on the right visually contained the pages of (the particular section of) the book, and the green marks on the bar represented pages where the search term was found.
  • Simple controls at the top part of the book reading pane included : Show full page, fit to page width, go to front cover, previous page, # of page (not a button), next page, and go to back cover. (Sometime the publisher might restrict the number of pages you can view by your Live ID account, and the number of pages remaining is on the very right)
  • EVERY book had pages you could view. Whether it was all content, most pages, or even some pages, EVERY book had viewable pages. Google Books has MANY books that are NOT at all viewable.
  • Either the book results pane or the book reading pane could be extended (although not the Overview panes in both parts, most likely because it was not as needed)
  • Interface is more compact, clean and useful than Google Books. You could hover over results in Live’s and instantly get a preview. Very nice feature.
  • Books that were out of print were fully downloadable
  • NO advertisements (which might account for the downfall of LSB)
  • Pages shown in FULL quality as the originally looked
  • Faster loading – another surprise, but pages got unpixelated in a second or two

Notes about Google Books (GB):

  • MANY books NOT fully viewable at all
  • More search results indexed (though again, not many viewable as Live)
  • Search terms were highlighted yellow (which can be difficult to find on pages yellowed with age)
  • Controls somewhat similar to Live Books, but included a zooming tools (the archaic kind with a zoom in/zoom out buttons, not mouse wheel-scrollable, or simple zoom slider), snipping tool (nice, but could only send to Blogger/Google Notebook, though embedding via text/picture was fine enough), and viewable in dual-page format.
  • Interface is more uglier, less intuitive, and rather bland – compared to that of LSB
  • Text viewable in plain text – as in pages could be transcribed into a more readable but simple text
  • Books divided into subjects/genres
  • Bookmark books to a personal library
  • Write reviews
  • Advertisements
  • Pages NOT always shown in full quality as the original (take a look at one of my example screenshots)
  • Pages do NOT load up very fast – page scrolling is very ‘bumpy’ when waiting to load

Well overall, I still think LSB wins in that it’s more flexible and most content could be viewable. Plus the interface is just plain better

Here’s some quick comparison screenshots:

       

          

            

           

                                  

           

                                                                                

Notes about Live Search Academic (LSA):

  • Results shown in dual-pane format – Same style as LSB : Results are in the left pane, and the right pane contains all the info. about the result (that your cursor is hovering over at the moment)
  • Filter by data type or detail – You can filter by data type like : relevance (default), frequency cited, oldest/newest, and group by author, journal, and conference. You can view by less, normal (default), or more detail.
  • View the result info. by Abstract, Citation Export, and Cited By
  • Abstract contains info. such as Title, Journal, Abstract, Author(s), Volume, Publisher, Source, DOI
  • Export info. via BibTeX, RefWorks, or EndNote – Under the Citation Export section, you can export the result in those formats. RefWorks and EndNote have a link that directly goes to those sites.
  • Cited By gives number of other works cited by users – As quoted from the LSA cite : "Cited by references are papers that cite, or reference, another paper. Looking at a paper’s cited by references can help you discover papers you might not have otherwise found via search alone."
  • Results can be extended across the dual-pane – Instead of the dual-pane layout, you can click on the arrow to extend results view
  • Advanced Search – With fields like : Keyword, Author, Data Range, and Journal Conference
  • Result "hovering" brings up info. very fast
  • NO advertisements (which again probably contributed to LSA and LSB shutting down)

 

Notes about Google Scholar (GS):

  • NO result previews – Simply just links. Nothing much else.
  • Higher index of results – Though doesn’t necessarily mean better
  • Can only filter by most recentness
  • View citations and related articles under each result

It’s a real no brainer : Live Search Academic wins for sure. Offers much more in this case. Another useful tools now gone. Here’s some screenshots comparing the two:

                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                           

                             

Overall, I think LSB and LSA could succeed if only Microsoft:

  • Put some ads somewhere under the results page – Though I think advertisements littering the page would really ruin the search experience, MS and the publishing companies/libraries probably need some income to fund this project, and that could come through putting advertisements on the results page. There could be an option to hide the ads, so it won’t ruin your reading experience or anything, but at least MS can say that the user at least saw the ad. That would have helped
  • Advertise on college campuses or at conferences – Why not actually advertise the usefulness of LSB and LSA on college campuses or where conferences take place? That could help win some popularity where LSA/LSB might matter most. These are the people that might be interested in such a tool.
  • Get good partners and volunteers that want to help with the project – I think LSB is definitely a project, as in getting the time and manpower to digitize so many books page-by-page. MS could have made strong partnerships with these publishers and libraries to fund some of the ad revenues from LSB/LSA over to these people. That way everybody wins. Start up a volunteer project where people who love literary works can help digitize this content for more people around the world to be able to view. That would have helped expose LSA/LSB as more of a project, rather than just some corporate search vertical

I think LSB and LSA had more potential than what they are, and thinks it’s quite sad MS is giving up. From what it sounds like, MS is giving up because they don’t think they’re getting enough profit out of it, and they’re losing money trying to work with the digitization of books, and that not many people are interested in Books or Academic searching. Though I think focusing on a segment of the market that’s not fully developed would have been a great way to get Live Search rolling somewhere. Google already has everyone beat on the main verticals, so why not specialize somewhere else?

Live Search Farecast – Nothing really new

Live Search Farecast also recently came out the same time as Live Cashback.

                                                                               

Live Search Farecast is a tool to determine when it’s the best time to purchase airline tickets, as well as a hotel search, and flight quality filter.

Farecast got picked by Microsoft for a cool $75-$115 million (not certain), and is now integrated into Live Search. However, it’s essentially the same look and feel it had before, but now placed in a Live Search UI. Nothing much has really changed other than that.

Hopefully, the Live Search team will try giving the site a more updated UI-look (or at least go along with the current Live Search look), offer better tools or more features, less advertisements (probably the most sponsored links and ads of any Live site), and maybe extend into some more areas like:

  • Trains (fare & journey quality)
  • Ship cruises & Boats (fare & journey quality)
  • User reviews (from users on the Farecast site, not other sites)
  • Find local business listings (via Live Local)
  • Flight tracker
  • Destination guides
  • Destination profile page (brief overview, with current time, weather, alerts, etc.)

You know, basically be a top-notch travel info. site, with all the perks. Having a site dedicated to one thing is good, but people these days want internet destinations where you can get everything all-in-one. Hopefully, that could help get rid of the crappy MSN Travel site.

Overall, it’s a decent site to pick the best airfare deal, but it could use more features like I listed above. Maybe we’ll see more updates coming soon.

Live Cashback – What it is, and how it’s NOT Microsoft paying people to use Live Search

Live Cashback just launched around 5/21/08. Live Cashback : A service to help find great rebates/discounts on products search.

                                                                  

Overall, Cashback just saves a lot of money if you’re a frequent online shopper. There is a MISCONCEPTION however that Cashback is nothing more than Microsoft handing you money to use Live Search. That is completely false. The people saying this never even looked or tried Cashback, and are just making plain assumptions. How is this not Microsoft giving out cash to use Live Search? Well:

  1. You have to BUY products to get "cash back" – The money you receive in your Cashback account comes straight from purchases you bought from the many online stores that Cashback supports. If you don’t buy a product, you don’t get the percentage rebate back into your account. A rebate is where you pay the original price for the product, but the store offers to give you a percentage of the money back (in this case, via Cashback)
  2. It’s not Microsoft’s money to give – It’s essentially YOUR money. The Cashback percentage listed on each item from each store, shows the percentage you get back. So you’re really just getting a piece of your money back, and you’re truly saving money

I think this is rather an ingenious way of getting Live Search up, and benefitting a lot of people. How so?

  • Users – Get rebates on products and SAVE. Plus you can easily compare prices with other stores to find which has the best deal. It even include that total price after Cashback rebates
  • Online stores – If users feel they’re saving a lot from this store, people will go buy there. That’s increased traffic.
  • Microsoft – Increased use of Live Search, and might get some switchers

And getting your Cashback money isn’t hard. As soon as the amount of rebates hits $5, you click the "Pay Me" button right on your Cashback account, and receive your money via online bank account, PayPal, or by check.

Overall, Cashback SAVES people money. NOT a way for Microsoft to hand out money. Here’s some screenshots:

                        

                                     

 

More details on Microsoft’s Mediaroom IPTV

You remember what Mediaroom IPTV was? It’s Microsoft’s solution to bringing digital television over IP. It’s already available from AT&T U-Verse and BT Fusion. The technology behind Mediaroom is set to make it the future of digital television.

                                                                      

How so? Well here are the latest known things about Mediaroom IPTV:

  • Interactive applications – multi-camera views, quick stats, live polls, bios, and other data. Anyone can code their own "application" and try to sell or make it free. Should be lightweight and work on normal set-top boxes.
  • Quick channel changing
  • Multiple channel DVR recording (w/o hardware tuner limit)
  • Multi-room viewing (go from one room to another without missing a second)
  • Multiple picture-in-picture (PIP)
  • Data transmitted over IP (ability to get info straight from the web, and fast)
  • Better HD content – not squeezed through a very narrow cable like other known solutions
  • More intuitive UI
  • Parental Controls
  • Synchronization with media from PC – another major important feature (why it’s called Mediaroom)
  • Ability to interact with friends
  • Go mobile
  • Ability to customize which channels you want
  • Probably even more

I mean this is really next generation technology. Most people will laugh at anything new Microsoft puts out, but Mediaroom is just another example at how Microsoft’s not a complete loser at everything. Can your digital television service do any of the features I just listed? I don’t think so. 🙂

Seeing details like this, really show the power of the Mediaroom platform. Really blows Apple TV out of the water. Hopefully Media Center integration will be strong.

I’ve seen AT&T U-Verse(which utilizes Mediaroom IPTV), at my brother-in-laws apartment and it’s just astounding. The UI transitions were smooth, the picture quality is great, the neat channel previews (with live content playing in the small preview window!), among other things just made this the most fantastic TV experience I ever experienced. It also doesn’t really cost that much as it seems.

If you can, I really suggest you go for AT&T U-Verse. It’s not offered in many areas, but if you can, you’ll probably love it. Here are some screenshots:

           

        

         

           

Gizmodo has an article about the new features. On10 has a nice video of the latest updates of Mediaroom.    

Downloaded WorldWide Telescope (WWT) : pretty neat

So I thought I should mention this again before you download this : WWT works on PC’s and Macs, you need to install the latest .NET framework (the reason my installation went foul at first), and be aware that this program is a BETA. It doesn’t state beta on the site, but it claims it’s a beta when you launch the program.

                                                                                                                      

I’m no astronomer, but I went around exploring it. Here are some screenshots:

 

                                                                             

                                                                                       

4 different ways to view data on WWT:

  1. Earth – This is the planet Earth of course. You can view Aerial, Hybrid, Street, and even Night view among others.
  2. Planet – You can view other planets from the list next to this box, and also see the moon, Jupiter’s moons, among others
  3. Sky – This is the main universe view. There’s a lot of ways of viewing the universe, like by microwave, infrared, x-ray, gamma, and other advanced views
  4. Panorama – These are like live camera feeds from other places like McMurdo, Erebus and a few others.

                                                                               

View many tours made by users, make your own tour, and it’s really fun.

                                                                       

You can rate tours and view profiles. (Hopefully some Live ID integration sometime soon, for those that do use it, and it wouldn’t be mandatory. Imagine sharing some stuff with your friends real easy.)

                                                                   

                                                                                            Tour maker.

                                      

Right click anywhere on the universe, and instantly receive any data associated at that point. (You have to press the "Close" button or the "X" near the magnifying lens to get rid of the info box. Clicking on the universe won’t get rid of it).

                                                                     

                                                           Geospatial data and content search filter are at the bottom.

                                                                                                 

The Earth has never looked any better. (although maybe except in NASA WorldWind)

                                                                                               [Image Error] 

Earth at Night. NOTE : For some reason, you can’t zoom into much detail once at the city level. Not just Night, but also in Aerial, and Road (both based on Virtual Earth). I’m hoping it’s just a bug. I would love to zoom in closer. They might put all VE features into the Earth view someday.

So that’s all I feel like sharing. You should try it yourself. Remember, it’s FREE, works on PC’s and Macs, you need .NET 3.5, and off you go.