Boy is Windows Live+Live Search+MSN all messed up. Lots of users who still somewhat use any of these divisions all have lots of complaints. Despite some nice stuff coming from Windows Live and Live Search, there’s a whole lot missing and unfixed. I’m going to address all these main issues right here. So be prepared for a long read.
Here’s all the main problems I think that are wrong with the way Microsoft has it set-up. I’m going to identify the problem, explain it, and I will bold what solution I think is best. So her it goes:
- Kill off the very weak parts – On MSN, there’s a lot of weak properties that need to go. The worst performing ones I’d have to say are : City Guides (NOT helpful), Shopping (worst internet shopping site ever), and Tech & Gadgets (basically content straight from CNET, PC World, among others). They’re just a waste and need to die. Others just need to disappear.
- Combine the Windows Live, Live Search, and MSN divisions – A biggie. I think it’s just too redundant to have 3 separate divisions like this. Windows Live and Live Search confuse most people, because the "Live" term is in both and is confusing across Microsoft (ex: Xbox LIVE, Office Live, etc.). It’s just best to put these separated divisions all into one unified place. Again, they’ll need to drop the worst stuff, combine some of the best stuff, make one name, and keep an almost uniform look. I’ve drawn a few of my own screenshot renderings before, and if I can do it, why can’t Microsoft?
- New name brand for the combo – The best I can come up with would be: WinLive. Does it sound catchy? WinLive doesn’t sound too bad compared to Google it. Or maybe WinWeb, Live, or something completely made-up (like the way Zune was brought up). Just DO NOT : use the whole word Windows, be more than 2 syllables, sound so corporate (make a trademark if you want, but don’t hideously drop it in a logo), and be too easy to make fun of. I’d be certain that the name brand would be much better if done this way. I’m going to be using the term WinLive for the rest of this blog, to reference the new naming.
- Brand new look – Is it too much to ask to make a nice look? Personally, I like the look Live Search has right now, but the way MSN and Windows Live properties look (esp. MSN) is going nowhere. Try making something sleek. Something daring. Something you’d never expect a service+search engine+content combination to look like. Make it smooth and fluid to navigate and browse. All in all, just make it really nice and impressive looking to help make a statement that MS actually has something good. Oh, and no stupid marketing campaigns with dumb shots of smiling people with those goofy grins on their face staring at a computer screen. I want to see how the service/product works, how it would really benefit me, and what’s really unique about it.
- Brand new logo – The Windows Live Orb, the MSN butterfly thing, and the Live Search icon, need to be replace with something to represent them all. What I was thinking of was something that was somewhat familiar to the Windows OS logo, yet different, like how the Microsoft Office logo is like. As you can see from the crudely drawn (and photographed!) picture at the top, that’s what I had in mind. 4 pieces of the puzzle (search, services, communications, and software) all being a core experience of WinLive. At least if drawn expertly, would look much better than a Windows logo in a shiny orb.
- Rename properties – Even though MS has gone past their super long product naming habits in the past, the names of many of their internet properties are rather sucky. I’d suggest that; Windows Live Hotmail goes to WinLive E-mail (that way WinLive Mail can remain the desktop version), Live Messenger goes to WinLive IM, Windows Live Photo Gallery to WinLive PhotoFix, Windows Live Movie Maker to WinLive MovieFix. Etc. Just simplify it up some more, and avoid super long names. Naming is VERY important, and if it’s too long or just boring sounding, people are less inclined to go for it.
- Improve Search Algorithm – Maybe it’s time to realize that computer generated results aren’t always the best. Live Search isn’t awful (far better than Yahoo!) and the UI looks nice, but the results aren’t always the best nor will any other search engine always get it right. So how about doing something radical like letting users rank what results they like best, or adding a URL they think should be included, and ranking down or putting a cross out over links that people don’t like? Being human powered by a large number of users, it’d be hard to drop a "Google bomb" on it. Wikpedia has their own Wikia search, and it’s user-powered. From what I’ve seen, this could be the next big thing. I’ve done a few searches, and they’re pretty darn relevant (along with ad-less and no page flipping). User-powered search is something MS should consider. To make sure though, a few selected users could be chosen to fix up how the results on a certain query are, and everybody else can pick if the results were right or not. If 75%+ majority agree, then it’s settled. If not, it can get reworked. People in the know, can edit on the fly if something major happens like a new site, service, etc.
- Making more quality RIA (Rich Internet Applications) – Technically, MS does have some RIA from their online division. Such as: Live Writer, Photo Gallery, Mail, Live Mesh, and Messenger. But in a way, they’re really BORING. I find the UI to be very crude around the edges on Photo Gallery, and Live Messenger has a lot of uselessness bundled with it. I would love to see an application with an overview of status of all your WinLive service. Think of it was Microsoft Max+Windows Live Home. Something nice looking, functional, and a great part of the service. I also want a better PhotoFix, VideoFix, Virtual Earth (desktop), MS Office Lite, and whatever the Live Labs team can come up with. Things to keep in mind : Takes up as small HD space, Silverlight/WPF based, fast, consistent and neat UI theme with WinLive, and does a lot of functions well. Kudos if there’s no ads.
- Enhance mobile offerings – Make it easy to access settings on a mobile device. In a way that it works as well as the real desktop offering. It would also be great if MS actually made a better mobile OS and mobile internet browser to access WinLive. So that it’s super easy to roam around WinLive on a relatively small screen. Instead of making "mobile versions" of a website, the browser should render pages as they actually are the best it can, and be able to zoom in and out smoothly to view the site. Practically all of WinLive should be available ready to use on a mobile device.
- Being platform friendly – It shouldn’t be a matter of whether you’re trying to sell a service, or selling your other product. It should just be focused on selling the service as well as possible on other platforms. Such as different browsers like Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Or even if it’s OS X and Linux. WinLive services should definitely be fully-optimized for any browser, and should at least work good enough on another OS.
- Pro/Plus/Premium accounts – What Microsoft needs, is a Pro account for all of WinLive services. Not just Hotmail. I could see Pro account containing at least : Hotmail Plus, 20GB SkyDrive storage, NO ads on any WinLive stuff, Full access to OneCare, etc. Maybe for roughly $65 a year? Or $10 a month? Just make WinLive Pro worth it. Without making free services feel sucky.
- ONE Team blog – What annoys me a lot is having to keep up with a bunch off other blogs related to Windows Live or Live Search. Sure, I have RSS feeds on some of them, but it’s really a lot of clutter. Some team blogs don’t update or rarely ever update their blog (if it’s on Live Spaces, there’s spam from not being maintained). Honestly, do users need to check up on every single teams’ blogs? One blog that’s well maintained to get some of the latest news from all of WinLive would be great. Employees can contribute whatever posts (as long as it’s useful) about their own team if they want. Just DON’T host it on Live Spaces. Better yet, make http://blog.live.com/ be the official place to get the latest news from the WinLive teams. Of course, employees can still post whatever they want to personally share on MSDN or whatever blogging site, but if all the teams could just post general important news (updates, fixes, new stuff, etc.) in one central location, that would be great.
- Better service overview site – Where do users get info. about a Windows Live service? Well there’s http://windowslive.com/ or http://get.live.com/ . Both of which are so cheesy and are just really general about what the service do. A WinLive overview site needs to give a nice detailed overview of what each service or product does. No corny "experience" vibe marketing messages or that kind of nonsense, especially describing what any common service does. It’d be best to differentiate how WinLive does it better or has an exclusive great features other services don’t have (if any). Nice screenshots, good professional video (without the experience marketing vibe, more product and less people with smiles, and full focus on neat stuff people might like), and maybe an emulator. Reviews wouldn’t hurt much either, and a big download button could help. As well as any add-ons or skins and betas, so people don’t need to bother searching for these. http://windowslive.com/ or http://winlive.com/ or whatever the new name is called would be a great site to host all the service/search overviews.
- Innovate, do something different – Catching up with other web companies is NOT going to help Microsoft at all. Ballmer or whoever needs to get that through their thick skull. If you want to succeed, then go above the bar. Focus on providing a service to a niche market that’s been relatively untapped. Change the way we commonly view a service and make it feel new and exciting (also known as revolutionizing). Give features that people request, and give them fast. This is a BIG problem Microsoft has trouble with, and it would great to see them focus on this.
- Add more services and search – I’d like to see WinLive delve into more services that I find missing from their offerings like : Chatrooms, Groups, browser-based IM, Polls, Personals, RSS reader, web-hosting, etc. More search verticals like Music (Zune Social?), Blog (Technorati?), Books and Academic (redone), and anything else of interest.
- ONE login ID – It seems like anytime you need to sign-in with your Live ID, you don’t always get the same page. There’s either Microsoft Passport Network or Windows Live ID. Why not just call them both the exact same thing? They ARE exactly the same thing right? Just with different names. Anything that’s not Windows Live, such as Xbox, Zune.net, MSN, and a few others use the old style Passport ID. What I don’t like about the Passport style is that you can’t store multiple login ID’s, and it looks cruddy. If MSDN could also utilize the Live ID login, then it would be much easier for people to toss in a nice comment. Having to manage just ONE simple login prompt, is much nicer than looking at a bazillion different ones.
- Community/Social Network site – I want to see a stronger community/social networking site from MS, than what Live Spaces is. I would love to see MS create a real nice site where users can post/share photos, blog posts, videos, lists, feeds, files to share, status message, personal widgets, contact info., and other things to on a personal page. As well as community aspects such as Networks, Groups/Forums, Chatrooms, Classifieds, Events (public ones in the area), Dating Personals, and maybe even Polls & Surveys. To sum it up, just create one SUPER community site. Give a nice design layout, ease of access to all community aspects, and easy customizability of users’ personal pages. Make it full of quality and design and not be excessively ad-filled like MySpace.
- Databases/Indexes – What’s the purpose of the Internet? To find information. A search engine is nice, but it’s only a tool to find the information. How about MS starts getting into the business of creating databases of information to share with the world? I’m hoping that each entry could have possibility of containing : detailed article, years in existence, pictures, videos, audio, specs & components, company/publisher/organization associated with, trivia/notes, statistics, data in a nice graphical display (charts, graphs, etc.), related tags, maps, amount of [insert whatever], dimensions, weight, any number/ID/classification associated with it (ex: ISBN, genus name, etc.), tables to explain differences with separate versions, timeline of major events associated with it, user ratings, reviews, related tags, related/official links, and anything else there could be associated with an entry. So think of this as somewhat like Wikipedia + official info. site + reviews & rating + multimedia all rolled into one. Though databases will be based on popular subjects such as cars, music, movies, books, organisms, computer & gadgets, companies, or anything like that. It’d be a great all-in-one place to get high level info. pertaining to the specific thing you’re looking for. Users have the option to edit the info., but the edit has to get cleared by a specialist running the site. It needs to get verified that it’s true and not fake to keep the relevancy and accuracy of the entries to be right. Again, I’m hoping the site is wonderful looking with a good focus on providing wonderful multimedia to accompany the entry. As well as well designed graphs and charts to give a good look at the data, and a timeline with point relating to major events associated with the entry. Think of it as a super encyclopedia database.
- Digital money account – MS should also get into making an electronic money service, or Microsoft’s own version of PayPal. Just more easier to pay stuff online (if accredited sites accept it) and good to use overseas, in real life checkout (using your WinMo phone?) and use it as real money. Almost like a universal digital credit card. Though hopefully it’s super secure.
- Microsoft Office Lite – WinLive would be a great place to make a free web & ad-based Office solution. It could be similar to Adobe Buzzword in where you can do both document making AND sharing with contacts who can view/edit/comment. So it’s like combining a web-based Office and Office Live Workspaces together. Though hopefully it has the neat UI richness Adobe Buzzword offers, but with more features and make it just as easy to share content with your friends who can view/edit/comment all in real time.
- Professional weblogs sites – Professional weblog sites are pretty popular these days. Sites ranging from tech stuff like Ars Technica, Techcrunch, and Lifehacker, to site of other topics like The Consumerist, Treehugger, Autoblog, and Yahoo! Shine among others are quite popular sources to get news with some pizzazz. Professional blogging sites are different from regular news sources in the sense that posts usually have more opinions from the editor, and maybe jokes and Photoshopped photos are thrown in for some humor. Most times professional blogs just like to retell what news sources say, or have their own personal coverage of an event or item they got their hands on. It’s more social than the typical news source, and it’s fun to read/reply to comments left, you can learn some extra tips, and it’s pretty nice. Microsoft should get into that and host some of their own special blogs on topics from food to shopping all the way to music and movies. There should be some good choice of topics, weekly exclusives, have good enough content and coverage to sift through daily, and as much media to accompany the post. It’d be great if Microsoft could specialize into niche topics like popular ongoing book series (ex: Hardy Boys, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, etc.), law enforcement (tips for cops, rising topics in crime, etc.), geeky science stuff, comic world, medical, art, etc. Special things like tips, weekly podcasts, good video and picture coverage, rumors, previews, etc. Kinda like a magazine, except digital. MS shouldn’t make a technology/gadget blog at all though. Consider Microsoft is a company that makes technology and gadgets, it would be hard to avoid being biased no matter what editors you hire to cover tech & gadgets. Not to mention you wouldn’t want to tick Gawker Media and Weblogs, Inc., whose top 2 blogs are tech & gadgets oriented : Gizmodo and Engadget. Microsoft wouldn’t want to get negative reviews because they’re competing with two influential tech & gadget weblogs, right?
- Virtual 3D World – I’m not talking about Virtual Earth or Live Maps here. I’m talking about an open-ended virtual world where users can roam around, meet other people, and engage in virtual activities. Kinda like Second Life. This virtual world could also be accessible through Xbox consoles, and rival Sony’s upcoming Playstation Home. You can make a realistic 3D avatar and interact with online friends, go around and explore the virtually-created places, and do some activities around. You can own your own home and keep some virtual things in it. The service itself can be free, but there could be advertising somewhere or things like furniture, clothes, bigger homes, could cost a little real money. I’m hoping it’s as nice looking as possible with a simplified UI, and that the possibilities of virtual communities can be established very well. I’m thinking it could be called : Virtual World
- More faster and efficient – It always seems like it takes forever for an update to come. The Live Maps team seems to consistently update their service every so often, but the other teams are really slow. Especially Hotmail and Messenger, the top two most used out of Windows Live. Not to mention Spaces. How hard is it to add features users want? That’s what I never liked about Microsoft : They give one big new version (like a UI change, more features, etc.), but they don’t give minor updates during the time period until the next version, unless it’s a security issue. So it could be months or years until a new version comes with any features people want. If it’s not in this one, you’ll have to wait again for the next one. What a bore. I want updates and new features FAST. No need to wait until the next version to give that small update.
- Improve minor bits of the experience – Simple things like making sites/software easily keyboard accessible, pretty icons (not BORING icons), fast loading, visual-pleasing aesthetics, nice transitions, less bugs, more activity can be done on current page than on separate pages (less page loading), one login does all, fun stuff (like a completely random service, that’s not useful, but a mere little joke), and a bunch of other nifty things.
- NO half-baked projects – Don’t release half-baked projects as betas. Please don’t. Those should be considered alphas. What I mean by half-baked, is that there still tons of bugs, missing promised features, unstable, little team support, and all the signs that a project could fail instantly. There’s been betas like Windows Live for TV, Help Community, and Shopping, where there must have been at least a handful of beta testers (or guinea pigs) and I guess the time they took to volunteer and help with the projects meant nothing to Microsoft. They weren’t compensated, and any work they did is gone. Half-baked projects like that show how MS doesn’t know how to run services or software very well, and doesn’t boost confidence in their online offerings. It’d be better to make a solid version first, and then release it as beta.
So that’s my super long list of ways that I think could help Microsoft’s online services, instead of the current soggy state it’s in now. Maybe those teams might stumble upon this post, and might do something about it. I can hope, right? Any comments? Just post them.