What ever happened to the Live Spaces team?

With new Windows Live Wave 3 betas going on, what ever happened to the Spaces team?

How long has it been since an update? Heck, as shown by this photo, they don’t even update the Community page often. These four Spaces that are showcased, have been there for over half a year already. I remember, because one of my friends owns one of those Spaces, and complains how her Spaces has attracted spammers, a bazillion nasty friend invites, etc. So how hard is it to update a Community page?

I’m also alarmed that there hasn’t even been minor updates, just promises there will be something new. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of waiting. More popular social and community sites like Facebook, are constantly updated from minor to major things, instead of one long-waited update. It’s no wonder Spaces isn’t the most popular sites out there, because there’s not enough great features, or updates to prove that.

Really, Live Spaces is boring the heck out of me. That’s one of the reasons Microsoft’s never going to gain a lot of active users; they’re just so slow at producing what people want.

All I’m saying is that the new update for Spaces better be worth the long wait. I don’t want just a refreshed UI and layout. I want a better search box, more social features, more integration, and a heck of a lot more things. Like I said before, the only use people will give Spaces is just an amateur blogging site, and a place to store stuff on SkyDrive. Otherwise, it’s dead in every other aspect.

Come on Spaces team. You can obviously do better, than this crud. Whatever this update is, it better be worth being excited for, and Spaces better be updated more often.

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Virtual Earth gets a 6.2 update

Virtual Earth got a nice update, codename Helios, and I’ll just skim over a few of the interesting parts of the update.

New features include:

  • Multi-way point – Adding multiple stops in your driving directions
  • Route based on traffic info. (ClearFlow) – Now there’s an option to use Microsoft’s ClearFlow technology to make directions instantly based on the traffic along the route.
  • Landmark-based routing – For instance, instead of just saying "Turn left on Seymour Dr.", a direction could say "Turn left by the Wendy’s". Much more useful if you’re driving and you can spot places well.
  • 3D Weather – If you are in 3D mode, you’ll be able to see things like the clouds based on the weather (with lots of cloud forms). Here’s a YouTube video of how natural-looking it is.
  • New near-matching capabilities. Using near-matching capabilities, customers can find locations using alternate and similar spellings, resulting in a more relevant search experience.
  • Among a bunch of other data, imagery, geocoding updates and new mobile support

Find more details about the 6.2 update on the Virtual Earth For Public Sector blog.

Live Labs releases Color Picker Sidebar Gadget

Seems that Live Labs released another neat thing called the Color Picker Sidebar Gadget. The purpose of the gadget is to enable users to pick color codes from different range of color palettes. It’s really made for designers and web developers who usually have to use same color codes for their projects across different design and development tools. There’s an option to search different color palettes from the web with the COLOURlovers API. The gadget was designed by Jeff Weir.

                                                      

Here’s a direct quote, "Many different programs use RGB color hex codes. While some programs have color management, sometimes you’ll need to use a palette across many programs like Expression Blend, Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML/CSS, and Flash. This handy sidebar gadget keeps your palettes at your fingertips, letting you quickly sample each hex code to your clipboard, so you can easily use your colors across all applications."

So if you’re a designer or a web developer, go ahead and download this nifty tool from Windows Live Gallery. NOTE : Some people who have reviewed the application point that it doesn’t work with 64-bit Vista (though one claimed it did work) and there might be Flash issues.

I just really love the gadget’s circular colors icon.

Sorry for the lack of updates – Hurricane Ike took away 2 weeks of power

Well Hurricane Ike came and went almost exactly two weeks ago, and I only got electricity yesterday night. What makes me angry is that my area of Houston, didn’t suffer extensive damage, and most people were already getting power within a week after the storm. It took almost exactly two weeks for me! CenterPoint had this mission where they’re trying to "restore power to the most people they can". Which means of course fixing the main energy plant, the substations, and then the power feed lines. Broken transformers come long after in the process, which my section of the subdivision was experiencing. Broken transformers affect usually 100-300 customers, and it’s not a lot compared to the thousands out there.

Even though there are other parts of Houston where it’s much harder hit, my area didn’t have too many tall trees or extensive physical damage. So the trucks and crews should have responded faster. They didn’t. First they promised Monday, then Thursday, and I only got it on Friday night. ARGH.

I also felt angry being one of the last people at school to get my power. I suffered a lot of emotional distress, anxiety, and now I even lost a camera and my Zune player because of all this!

Anyway, I’ll try to get my posts updated, and eventually delete this one. Glad to be back.

MSNBC has an excellent Hurricane Tracker on their site

Right now, Hurricane Ike is bearing it’s way towards my hometown, Houston, and it’s nice to have something like MSNBC’s Hurricane Tracker while I’m still online.

                                                                                             

I really love the way it’s designed. It uses a grayscale Virtual Earth map (which really looks awesome!), and there’s many detailed colored spots showing it’s position and it’s storm category at the time. There’s a nice graphical histogram of the hurricane’s status on the left side, and you can hover over portions of it, and it’s position on the map pops out. Just beautiful. I wish Live Maps had a grayscale view option, because I think it really rocks!

The map legend is great, and MSNBC really paid attention to the detail. I really like it. There isn’t even any notable advertising in the way, until you scroll down out of the Hurricane Tracker, and it’s only then you notice you’re on a typical(ugly) MSNBC page. MSNBC’s Hurricane Tracker for 2008 is great. I hope they design it the same next year.

The MSNBC Hurricane Tracker is designed by stamen design, who’s noted for making great data maps using Virtual Earth.

Wishlist: Things Microsoft can do to make Live Search much better

So here it is, my latest wishlist on Live Search, and improvements I could only hope that Microsoft be able to do. Stuff that in the end, would make Live Search a much stronger search engine to finally switch to.

                                                         

So here’s my big wishlist:

  • Ability to let special users push best results to the top – Even though Live Search nails down most of my results, I do find often times enough the results just aren’t there in line with Google‘s. Instead of letting machines and spiders do the pageranking, why not let actual humans have some input on what results should be at the top of every page? Face it, humans are more adept at knowing what results we want, than some machine that can’t get the right results often enough. Think of it as sort of like Wikia, where users can rank which results jump to the top, and even edit information about the website with a better description. Microsoft can select a small group of dedicated users (such as myself) to have the ability to rearrange the results they see fit, add a result that isn’t there, and edit the website description if it needs fine tuning. Users will have to justify their decision, and then someone from the actual Live Search team could check it out, and agree to switch it that way if it’s found reasonable enough. There’s less likely of a site bombing since each Live Search employee will run checks before instating it, and can ban users who are abusing it. This will work mainly for Web, Images, and Video searches. Perfect solution, eh?
  • Drop-down Search Suggestions – I love drop-down Search Suggestions (or AutoSuggest as I prefer to call it)! Like I might know a partial name of something, or remember only a little of the name, and the word suggestions related to your search query that pop up as you type are very helpful. The Live Search Toolbar has had this nifty feature for quite some time, and it’s nice to see IE8 have it by default (visually too!). So why not take it a step further and put it into the page itself? I’d like it to be similar to Yahoo!‘s Search Assist, where there’s a dark background, and as you type, the words you’re typing are a bit darker, and the difference in each suggestion is done in white. So it’s really easy to tell the difference between the suggestions faster. Ability to turn if off right in the box or in settings is ideal.
  • Site previews – I love that feature. Ask.com and Snap.com have it, and it’s super sweet. I could just hover over the icon or link of a result, and get a nice quick snapshot of what the general site looks like. It’s useful if I’m looking for a certain webpage I saw before, but don’t recall what it was called. Instead of pressing every link, I just hover and see. It’s also a nice touch, as long as it doesn’t get in the way. There should be an off switch in the Settings. Maybe you guys should buddy up with Snap.com who really has it all.
  • Favicons in results – Yet another nice touch. Favicons are a visual way I can recognize a site by it’s specific icon, It’s can be more fast just by looking at the website’s icon. It doesn’t have to be humongous, you could put a golden border around it if there’s a site preview available (another clean nice touch!), and an option to turn it off in Settings.
  • Website safety indicator – I want something similar to the McAfee SiteAdvisor implanted on Live Search. The McAfee Site Advisor is a great tool for determining if a link is safe to go to, or not. It’s generally done a great job from what I’ve seen. Like symbols next to each link are similar to OneCare’s status icon : Green = good, yellow = caution, and red = bad. Again, a nifty feature that I’m sure many people will enjoy the security of. So either the OneCare team makes their own website safety indicator for their suite and free Live Search integration, or buy McAfee and get one of McAfee’s greatest assets. Not to mention having a plug-in for IE. I’d think it be hard to replicate such a great service, but it doesn’t have to stop at safety. It can contain entire information about a site that one would ever need to know, such as the owner, last update, domain provider, type of site, etc.
  • One-stop Website Information Database – It doesn’t have to stop with safety indications. How about creating a database of information about practically every single website (domain) in the world? Such as information about the site’s owner, country, last update, web traffic data, site as it was in the Internet Archives, rank, major external links, users’ overall review, report site abuse, download safety, spam test, and maybe even some screenshots (Live Search web integration for site previews?). Site comparisons too, and it’d be like the brain child of Alexa.com and McAfee SiteAdvisor (if only MS bought something worth buying!).
  • Drag-n-Drop Results into a virtual group/folder – I’m taking this idea right off of Tafiti. What I mean by drag and drop results collections, is a way for users to drag an drop all kinds of search results (web, images, video, news, etc.) into virtual groups/folders/collections that users themselves can create. Like the same way if you’re shopping at the supermarket, and picking the products that matter to you and dropping them in a cart so it’s easier to keep track of instead of holding each individually. The group container could remain independent of the search results off to the very side of the page as a pane you can extend/hide.It’d stay static as you search across different fields instead of reloading the whole page and the pane every time. You can save these virtual groups using your Live ID. It’s like taking the idea of the Scratchpad in Live Image Search, and expanding it to all of Live Search, but bigger and easier to manage in a pane you can always hide/extend. The ability to add comments and tag each search result to search up in the pane would be great. Nice idea, eh?
  • Customized search pages – I like this idea from Mahalo. Instead of machines ranking and indexing the entire enormous web, how about letting users create specific search query pages that really pertain to users, instead of machines? Let users pick the websites and links that should show up on the customized search page, and split them off into separate target groups such as official, top sites (such as overview articles, fan sites, direct download, etc.), blogs, latest news, and top images all chose by us. I also like Mahalo’s "Guide Note" and "Fast Facts" pane at the very left of the results. It provides a quick brief intro to what your search query is all about, and some important facts that you ought to know. I like that, because it usually doesn’t require me to look farther to other sites, when the necessities are right there. Similar to Live Search’s Instant Answers, but provides more in-depth stuff. Again, letter users pick what’s good, instead of letting machines spill out what they think is right, sounds like a better idea to me. Microsoft’s acquisition of Powerset is all about information based results like Mahalo, but completely based on Wikipedia and not user input.
  • Universal Search – It’s pretty similar to what I just said about customized search pages, but not really user-based. Just simply displaying a search query’s web/image/video/news/etc. results all in one page. To some, it might be more helpful to get all a lot of results and information all in that page. Make this an option, and allow us to choose which verticals we want to see on one page.
  • Visual Search – People are usually visually-minded, rather than text-minded. After all, a picture can tell a thousand words. That’s why people like Image and Video search on Live Search; it’s because it’s more visual than text. Ways to make a search engine more visual-like include fancy interactive UI, heavy use of items such as website snapshot previews, favicons, high quality images in results, videos that play a short segment when you hover, album art pops up if you search for a song, book covers, etc. To me, that’s the way to go. People are so visual, and things like icons and thumbnails are more important to us than having to read through a bunch of lines of text, waste time, and figure out that’s not the right result you wanted. Viewzi is a great example of visual search.
  • More Search verticals – It can’t hurt to offer some more search verticals, so I can get more information all in place, instead of a bazillion sources. I find Live Search is really missing out on verticals such as Yellow Pages, White Pages, Podcasts, Music/MP3, Blog, Lyrics, Classifieds/Job Listings, Books, Academic, and Games. Now some of these are peculiarly in MSN at the moment, even though they pertain more to the search side such as Yellow Pages, White Pages, and Job Listings. Some sadly got discontinued like Books, Academic, and Classifieds. Microsoft could use the Zune Marketplace as a way to bring up Music and Podcast results (with album art hopefully!), Games can just be based on a local database, and MP3 and Blog are something Microsoft has yet to have had experience in. The more verticals, the better.  
  • Fancy sleek UI – This is pretty important, even though it’s after everything else (you need great results, before you can go fancy on the other stuff). The current Live Search looks pretty nice, but lots of people just love something more sleek, graphical, and awesome looking. Something you could just stare and think in awe about. Black background, white text is definitely a way to go. Emphasis on visual stuff such as photos, videos, or icons, with maybe a nice glow around the edge, or a layout view with wet floor reflections. Very swift moving UI. Different layout views. Customized looks. Dynamic zooming and updating. Awesome logo. Matching and consistent theme. All the UI goodies anyone can love. An option for simple search would be nice though.

That’s really about all I can think of, from a user’s point of view. Is there anything you think I should add to this list? I’ve posted some clips below of some of these elements I’m talking about:

 

    

   

Areas where Live Search excels

Live Search is my primary search engine, and while it’s not perfect, I think it does a bunch of great things. For those who still use Google or Yahoo!, I’ve made a list of some of my favorite things about Live Search.

                                                          

Here it goes:

  • Video Search – I LOVE Video Search! Live Search Video is like the best. It indexes videos from tons of sites (not just YouTube), and you can filter by most-recent/relevance, source, duration, aspect ratio, and resolution. Hover your cursor over a video thumbnail, and a short preview will play directly in the thumbnail. Now that’s awesome! You can also bookmark a video in the results, into the site’s favorites. . Practically the best all-around video search engine there could be.
  • Image Search – To be honest, the results I get aren’t always superb as say Google’s, but the tech behind Live Image Search is great. The page is really clean, and isn’t bloated with so much text I don’t need to see, infinite scrolling, and the ability to drag and drop photos I like into separate collections on the side. And the search filter tools for images are fairly good. Top-notch, but do a search for "Microsoft logo" in Google and Live Image Search, and you’ll see who does better in the results area.
  • Instant Answers – Instant Answers rock! I really think Microsoft came with this first, before Google did, when I was a novice to Microsoft’s new Windows Live. Like in the search box, type in ‘define’ in front of a word you’re not familiar with, and Live Search will display the Encarta Dictionaries definition. Or simply search ‘weather’, ‘movies’, ‘pizza’ and you’ll get nice IA’s if you’re location is set in Settings. I also like this year’s Olympic integration where you could search up a country and add ‘medal count’ to get the current medal count standing during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Or use Live Search as a calculator, find out a famous figure’s birthyear, etc. Very nifty stuff. It’s really a tool to find quick common-day information instantly.
  • Health Search – Microsoft has made a wonderful web aggregate for finding information on certain medical terminology you might search for. Seeing multiple health sites listed in great style, refinement tools, regular web results, and the usual sponsored results is good. You can even save searches or links to your HealthVault Scrapbook. Much better than a traditional web search. I’d say they could rearrange the UI better, make it more robust and graphical and all that.
  • Live Search Maps – To be truthful, I’m not talking about the search part. It’s just that the mapping technology is great. I love the visual style, the way the UI works, the mapping features, etc. 3D in a browser, and all that. It’s really top notch. Though I’m not sure Live Search Maps belongs in the Live Search group.
  • Macros – A macro is like selecting certain websites that you want to search from. Instead of searching the whole web, you can make a macro to see results in only these sites you picked. I’m not aware of any other search engine that has this nifty feature, so it’s great to see Live Search ahead of the competition in this area. You can make a macro of up to 30 websites.
  • Live.com homepage – I like the daily picture that comes up in the background. It’s a real nice touch, and it doesn’t get in the way of the search box. That’s about it. The other parts of the homepage aren’t my style.

These reasons are the only parts that makes Live Search really worth it for people. I’d say that the way Live Search displays the results are often times better than the results that come up themselves.

Microsoft could definitely try beefing up Live Search with much more, if they really want to be a strong competitor to Google and Yahoo!. That’s what my next post is about.

What do you like about Live Search?