Fixes & Features To Consider : Windows Live Spaces Wave 3

Since news about the new and improved Windows Live Space has been released, I can’t help but have some concerns about the improvements that are getting added to Spaces. I’m hoping Microsoft will make better changes more suited to people who really prefer to have a nice simple blogging service, have as much customizability, features and freedom as possible, without strict limits and hassles.

 

So this is my hopes for changes regarding Windows Live Spaces:

1. Ability to better customize the blog banner – I’d really like to add more “oomph” to my Blog Banner, like the ability to add graphics, specifically change the background of this particular module, and more fonts (surprisingly, Hotmail’s e-mail composer has different fonts AND 1 more font in total!). Hack MSN Spaces has a great guy, and a wonderful MSN Group where you can do much more.

2. Make it speedier & easier to customize the Space in Edit Mode – Overall, I’m pretty pleased the customizability of Spaces, but it can be very SLOW to view a preview of the effect you’re changing. I wish it could work like Microsoft Office 2007’s Live Preview feature, where you just hover over the selected change, and you can see exactly what it will look like before you apply it. Also, moving modules around the page can be just as SLOW and cumbersome. I need more speed, or else it will take me (and others) forever to preview and apply changes. I also find it problematic when you’re trying to move big modules around, or moving modules far away; the editor doesn’t scroll down/up the page well and tosses my module into a place I didn’t want. Needs better auto-scrolling. Or the ability to collapse modules so it’s more swift to move around and displays JUST the title bar, and seeing a thumbnail of the module as you’re moving it around. There also needs to be an Undo button. Sometimes I apply a change, and realize I don’t want the change. I don’t exactly remember what the way it was before the change, so I need an Undo button to revert back to the way something (like the color, position, etc.) was previously. Again, more fonts wouldn’t hurt, considering Hotmail has a few different ones as well as 1 extra in total.

3. Spam Control – This year has been the worst ever in spam. Spam is existent everywhere on Spaces. Spammers have done horrible spamming to my site, and sometimes 20+ amounts of spam every time I find it. Spam exists even on discarded Spaces blogs from Windows Live teams that rarely update, or even bother with the spam issue on their own blog. Users have been complaining for a long time, and I’m surprised that Microsoft never had any way to prevent spam, and has taken so long to fix it. My suggestions are to:

  1. Ability to block users – I’d like the ability to block a user, and have the option of deleting all their comments on my Space. If the Spaces servers notice that a particular account has so much blocks from people against it, it should automatically be smart enough to delete the account, or checked over by an employee.
  2. Ability to report users for spam – At the moment, it’s very difficult to report users. Even when you do find the option to report someone, the choices available don’t offer ‘Spamming’ as a reason. Quite ridiculous! I know it’s not just a handful of people suffering spam problems, it’s a great majority, if not all. To report a user, you have to go directly to their Space, click Report Abuse at the bottom, and fill out the information. There’s great stupidity when it ask you type the URL of the person’s Space (Hello! I just clicked Report Abuse on the guy’s Space!). Since ‘Spamming’ isn’t an option, you have to pick ‘Other’. I also dislike the space for typing in the issue, is pretty small, and they don’t use up more of the page. So you can see my frustration.
  3. Limit on the amount of hyperlinks and links (specifically: 5) – No more than 5 would be preferable. Why someone would need to do more than 5, might be a bit suspicious.
  4. Delete comments directly from the Comments on Your Space box – Such an easy feature, but still not here. If I could delete comments instantly from the Recent Comments Box, my life would be much more easier. I shouldn’t have to press 4 links, to delete one comment. Or a workaround like going to http://mobile.spaces.live.com, and easily deleting comments from my Space there. Just put a little red X next to each comment, and if I click it, the comment disappears off of my Space and Recent Comments box.

4. Tagging – I wish users could easily tag their posts, and I don’t mean Windows Live Tags. Tags to mention the keywords associated to each post/photo, and the ability to press on one, and view other posts/photos with the same tag by the user. Like if my friend adds the tag “Thanksgiving” to her post, I should be able to click on it, and view any blog posts or photos she tagged Thanksgiving. It’s called Web 2.0, Microsoft.

5. Better Search box – The search box currently on Spaces is crud. Search results are divided in to People, Spaces, and Blog Entries. People is dumb, since people are not going to be using their real name anyway (at least younger users won’t bother), and locating a friend on Spaces is quite a laugh if you told someone. Spaces is ok. Blog entries are more interesting though, and I hope a new improved search box will let me easily search up something, and I hope results bring up a snippet of the entry, as well as bring up any posts that contains the tag with my query. Also, the ability to view results by A-Z order, chronological, your Spaces friends items at the top, and by certain tags would be great. Ability to search within a person’s Space would be great too.

6. Fix up publishing issues – Sometimes, if I take a long time to type a comment or fix a post, when I click to Add or Publish, I get errors:

Very annoying. I don’t understand why this comes up. Several people have commented about this too, on one of my other posts.

7. Better URL naming – I hate the current method. Like this link: http://msftandthefuture.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!1CA34B674D84900!2643.entry . Obviously, not a friendly UI, right? How about http://msftandthefuture.spaces.live.com/2008/9/27/virtual-earth-gets-a-6-2-update This URL would at least include information such as the date posted, and a glimpse of the title instead of mumbo jumbo characters. Much better than a bunch of chaotic numbers and letters meaning very little, to people who hover over hyperlinks.

8. Notification on status of Friends Request – I wish Spaces would notify me if someone accepts/denies my friend request. I got a lot of stuff to do, and I don’t want to have to keep track if somebody approves or disapproves of adding me as a friend. Currently, if someone approves me, I don’t know this until I see them in my What’s New feed, or actually look at my Friends. If someone disapproves, I’m not sure if they haven’t gotten around to looking at my request, or they already did, and I just didn’t know.

9. Allow Javascript and Silverlight content – Please allow Javascript and Silverlight code to be embeddable into our blogs.

10. Ability to group friends – It’d be nice to arrange your friends on Spaces in groups. Just to make it easier to differentiate each. Maybe you could also specify which group you want to view updates with in the What’s New feed.

10. Inviting friends could use some work – I’d like to be able to easily login to my others accounts outsides of my Live ID, and invite them to join Spaces, or see if they already have their own Space so I can request to be friends. Accounts such as Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, etc. Considering Live ID does allow you to use e-mail address such as @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc., then it’d be nice if I could find them out if they’re on my contacts list.11. Group bloggingAllow several accounts to be fixed to a Space, and the ability to choose which members have administrative rights, so users can blog together and have more fun!

12. Ability to prescreen and moderate comments – I love comments, but I might want to approve them first just in case (so things like spam don’t go through). Or I might feel it necessary to strike through some pretty foul stuff in a comment, or something like that.

13. Messenger Status enabled – I’d like the ability to have my Messenger Status icon enabled to any user to quickly contact me via Messenger, as long as they can’t see my e-mail. Would be great to connect with readers.

14. Status Message viewable – I wish I could also allow people to see my latest status message on the blog’s home page. The ability to also update it right then and there, and show up on my Messenger status message would also be great.

15. Customizing what’s shown in the What’s New feed – There are some updates I don’t want to view from my friends (like tacky new friends that barely have anything worth looking at on their Space) and the ability to see more of a certain aspect of the feed (like I want to see more of the updated blog post, before I click on it).

16. “Statistics” revamped with adCenter Analytics – I’d like some “real” site analysis for my blog, and statistics just doesn’t cut the butter (check out Kelley Martens blog). Instead, how about having some integration with adCenter Analytics? I know it’s all beta stage at the moment, but what a better place to test it, then Microsoft’s own Spaces users? It doesn’t have to be the whole deal either, I just want the basics, like how many accurate hits per hour/day/week/month and a neat little table and graphs, and the source of the traffic, and maybe some demographics about my visitors. Again, nothing too fancy, but I’d like a more better Statistics counter.

17. “Similar Blogs” feature – I wish there was a tool where you can request to see what other Spaces are similar to yours, where it can analyze sites that have the same words used, listed interests, location-wise, and other stuff so it’s much easier to find companion blogs out on Live Spaces.

18. Better ‘Lists’ – Having a ‘Lists’ feature is nice, but I really wish you could drag-and-drop items in the order you want (instead of the dumb numbering reorder), ability to include a thumbnail, and specially customize the looks of the list. Here’s a current iteration of the List, with’ it’s annoying method of arranging by numbering:

18. Better gadgets suited for Spaces – I’d like a better Poll module to conduct polls (the current one I’m using is ok, but Microsoft could make such a better one, and include demographics chart based on Live users), or maybe some official ones from services like Twitter or Flickr that can embed my latest status or photos. Stuff like that. Wouldn’t hurt to make the gadgets more better-looking too.

19. Messenger on Spaces – I think Microsoft should expand Web Messenger not only to Hotmail, but also Profile and Spaces. I mean these are the main areas where you interact with any of your contacts in the web browser, so it’d make sense to have a Web Messenger available in Hotmail, Profile, as well as Spaces. In fact, I found a snippet showing that Live Spaces was originally suppose to have Web Messenger, but decided to skip it:

The site is still amazingly up, because Microsoft isn’t good at updating it’s sites like it should be.

20. Improved ‘Spaces Community’ site – I’d really wish they’d bring back the ‘Interesting Spaces’ feature, where it’d show 4 cool Spaces worth checking out, and hopefully the team will update this monthly, and maybe add more than 4. Maybe display some Tips & How-tos from the Windows Live Clubhouse, a Tagspace that display frequently used tags from posts, a weekly poll, a list of all the great features of Spaces, a more prominent area to market the usefulness of Windows Live Writer, and other stuff like that, that’s more interesting and useful.

21. Star ratings and other blog post tools – I wish each post on your Space could have : Star rating, Bookmarking/Sharing Tags, Print, E-mail, IM to, Translate (Live Translator?), Listen To (ReadSpeaker?), and other tools at the top of each blog post (when viewing an individual post).

22. Ability to make money off adCenter ads – I wish Microsoft had a similar program to Google’s AdSense, where people can embed text ads into their site, and maybe have a chance of getting at least a little revenue. If Microsoft does, I hope it’s really simple to set-up and be just text ads.

23. Better photo slideshows – I know Live Spaces will have a somewhat new Slideshow viewer, but I want some more styles in the transitioning between photos, the speed, and maybe it’d be nice to have a little soundtrack playing.

24. Better support for other web browsers – I tried editing my site in Safari one time (after IE, kept crashing), but every setting was almost dumbed down, that I couldn’t try it. Please Microsoft, allow users to better access and edit Spaces from almost any web browser.

25. Allow OpenID users or other users to comment – Since Microsoft has joined in with OpenID, I hope Microsoft will allow accounts associated with OpenID to be able to comment on Spaces. Or allow just anyone with an e-mail account to comment and the ability to add their own site URL hyperlink in their name.

So those were some of the thoughts that came into my head, as to how Microsoft could really beef up Spaces much more better, to fit bloggers’ needs and wishes. Anything else I should add? Comment!

Windows Live Spaces to become more of a blogging and personal site, rather than social networking

I predicted since practically a year ago, but I could tell that the social networking aspect of Windows Live Spaces was already weak enough, but now its pretty much official that Live Spaces won’t become the social networking arena now that Windows Live Profile is created.

So what’s coming up with the new Spaces then? Well according to Windows Live:

1. No ads – That would probably make everyone happy, as I have found the banner ad being at the top super annoying. However, I can’t help but wonder how Microsoft will monetize Spaces if there are no ads. Wouldn’t all the new data coming in the form of blogs take up some server space? Meaning more money to maintain and purchase server space? I’m wondering how Microsoft can do that without pulling in advertising money from Spaces. I would have been ok with contextual ads, or the banner ad being on the right and the ability to collapse it, but oh well.

2. Header to be simple – Windows Live logo on the far left, ID logo on the right. I just wish they would do something to make it easy to go to another section of Windows Live from the header though. I find this header to be inconsistent with all the other new Wave 3 headers. Anyone agree? Seems kinda strange how it’s quite different from the headers of the other services.

3. Photo storage separated from SpacesPhotos will be stored on SkyDrive, but you can still view those photos on your Spaces page. It’s just that photos aren’t stored in Spaces anymore. You can also share and view just from SkyDrive. Also, since it’s dependent on SkyDrive now, the old 500 picture limit per month is a bit different now. The limit will still be there, but it’s only up to 25GB. Should be good enough though for a very long time. It just used to be a continuous exponential storage. I’ll miss that.

4. Better photo preview – Instead of opening a new tab/window showing the enlarged photo, it will just pop out to it’s original size, right on the page, and everything else darkens on the page, until you close the preview. I’m not sure how you can click to find the original photo instead of just the preview, but I’ll find out as soon as the update comes.

5. What’s New highlights just new blog posts and comments – Most contact updates will show up on Windows Live Profile. The What’s New feed on Live Spaces will just mainly show new blog posts, comments, and who knows what else.

I was really hoping for more than just this though. Almost been a year it seems, since there’s been a major update. In my next post, I’ll be talking about how Microsoft should fix Windows Live Spaces (based on the latest Spaces update news) to make it more appealing from Average Joe blogger, to bloggers who want something a bit more fancy (but would like the Windows Live connection or something exclusive Microsoft could offer).

Sources : LiveSide and The Spacecraft

Anyone find MSN.com a bit “overloaded” these days?

When I was first starting to use computers, I kept MSN.com as my homepage, since that’s what was the default in Internet Explorer (and of course, technology has progressed so much since then!). I’d use to glance at the headlines and the weather, and maybe even new e-mails right from MSN.com. I was all right with it at the time.

Enter 2008, and I just can’t see myself looking back at MSN.com anymore (at least the homepage). I think that whoever that designs MSN.com has made it turn progressively worse. Now the homepage is cramped with links, headlines, typical stock photos, ugly design, etc. and makes MSN.com awful than the way it was back around, say, 2003-2004. I see little reason to use it as a homepage, or even visit it. Period. Here’s what I grudgingly despise about MSN.com in 2008:

1. Too much links! – Seriously, has the team never heard of dividing content into tabs? Not everybody is particularly interested in seeing everything all at once. In fact, I think most people find seeing every single link to stuff you might not even care about makes MSN.com look all cluttered and messy-like. It’s awful from a design point of view. Little organization, and overwhelming.

2. Custom left pane is dumb – Ever since this addition, the page feels even more bloated. I don’t even find this pane entirely useful. The Hotmail module’s only use it to see what new messages there are, but you can only see a glimpse of the dumb subject. You might as well head straight to http://mail.live.com to view messages. Video highlights are pretty meh, and the other personal stuff : Horoscopes, Weather, Stocks, and Local News are rather small potatoes and I could always find better content somewhere else. To me, the left pane isn’t customizable enough, and the things you can customize are pretty meager.

3. 7 spots of advertisements – There’s one on the very top bar of the page, the flashy banner square, and even a section called Advertisements with 5 links. I think there should just be 3 or less places of advertisements.

4. MSN Highlight player getting kinda old – It’s barely changed. A super tiny play/pause button was added, but that’s it. Having a ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ button is pretty old school. Also, a lot of the panes that flash by are pretty boring usually, because there’s so much generic stock photos revolving round and round. Spice it up a bit, add better controls, and a bunch of other tweaks.

5. Color clash with the header – Such a glaring absurdity, but MSN.com continues to have the ridiculous header at the top, that clashes with the color in the page margin. The left portion looks like it has a special shine on it, but it immediately touches the margin and clashes. Really stupid designing.

6. Icons need a major update – Talk about needing a facelift. The icons on the MSN page are pretty ancient. It’s like they never changed them. I notice that if you zoom in closer to the page, the logos quickly get pixelated. It’s also not up to snuff with today’s more extravagant and better icons. The icons on MSN.com need a major refresh.

I’m just a bit frustrated Microsoft has done little to spruce up MSN.com, besides adding a new header (which isn’t that great btw) that also clashes with the color margin. Is this the best Microsoft can do? If so, they might as well toss MSN.com out. It’s just plain trashy. Yahoo! on the other hand, has made their home page much better, cleaner, and swifter to go through. Also, MyYahoo! beats the stuffing out of MyMSN. As the web moves on, MSN.com will be further irrelevant unless they make some big and better changes. I still can’t understand why the heck Microsoft is way behind when it comes to the web, in cases like this.

Does anyone enjoy visiting the MSN.com home page? Or surfing around any MSN content? Comment your thoughts please!

Zune Pass now gives you 10 free songs (to KEEP) per month! Pass really worth $5 now?

Some awesome news has come out that if you’re a Zune Pass subscriber, you can keep 10 free (non-DRM) songs per month. That’s like almost a whole CD, or a free $10 in the form of songs.

Considering the Zune Pass costs $14.99 a month, that’s a real bargain. $14.99 – $10.00 (roughly the Zune Pass cost) = $4.99. So you really save quite a lot.

Also, the Zune Pass differs from your usual subscription service with:

  • Fun to navigate – I find the fluid interface to be super easy to navigate with, and I love the beautiful pictures of artists in the background, the ease of just pressing download and having it go straight to your collection just like that, and to me, it’s just like the best online store to navigate. iTunes Store really sucks in comparison (well except the content…)
  • Podcasts – Most other services don’t even had podcasts. iTunes has much more, but as more podcasters start allowing their podcasts to be available on Zune, we’ll see even more selection to choose from.
  • Channels – Music pros make a playlist of great new songs you might like, and you can subscribe to each or any one of them. They’re constantly updated and Zune Pass only.
  • Picks – Recommendations based on the music you play. There’s a new “Perfect 10s” Pick, that shows 10 must-have tracks in each popular genre.

So you really can’t go wrong with a Zune Pass. However, only Zune devices work with the Zune Pass. Not a bad trade off, considering Zunes are great music players. Also, there’s no rollover – You have to get the 10 tracks within the month, any leftovers won’t pass on. Also worth noting, 90% of the 4+ million songs available on Zune Marketplace is DRM-free MP3’s.  If you have a Zune or planning to buy a Zune, the Zune Pass would be a great complement to the Zune.

Zune devices also just got significantly cheaper, if you’re worried about making the switch.

MS-Links for Friday – 10/14/08

Every Friday, (I’ll try to do every) I’ll pull out some good Microsoft-related URL’s I found interesting. I’ll give the article title, the hyperlink, and a brief description of what made it interesting to me. So here’s today’s links:

Thoughts on Windows Live Photo Gallery (Wave 3) beta

Well this is my last thought post about the Windows Live Wave 3 applications. I’ve been looking around WLPG Wave 3, and the new improvements are fairly good. So I wrote some of the things I’ve noticed.

What I like that’s new:

1.People Tagging – Now I can tag people in photos, including myself. I’m not sure, but I also think WLPG is smart enough to recognize people automatically based on the features of people you have tagged before.

2. Black & White effects – A simple classic effect built right in, with 6 different types

 

3. SmugMug and Picasa supportNow you can upload to SmugMug and your Picasa Web Account, as well as Flickr (since the last time) and your Drupal website.

4. Photo Straightening – Now there’s a tool in the Fix area to easily pull a slider left or right to make the subject(s) in the photo more straightened if needed.

5. Ability to close the Left pane – Now you can easily close, or at least collapse the left pane, so it doesn’t get in the way. The pane that displays the folder hierarchy for the photos and videos.

6. Photos selected for batch editing easier to see – In the previous version of WLPG, when you selected multiple photos (called ‘batches’) for editing, grouping, or whatever, it was a bit hard to tell which photos were selected and which photos weren’t. The selected ones had just a slight gradient over it, but it was almost imperceptible. Now, they’re much more noticeable with a bluish gradient.

The team has more about the new improvements here.

However, I still find WLPG Wave 3 to not address some things I’ve been wishing, or something I don’t like about the changes:

1. I don’t like the Wave 3 Bar – I really don’t like the new Wave 3 bar. I’m more of an icon person, than a text person. I really want the icons back! I recognize things more quicker with icons. I’m just glad they didn’t take icons away in everything. If icons mean taking up even a bit more space on the bar, I wouldn’t mind.

2. No geotagging – Microsoft’s own Pro Photo Tools 2 can do this, yet WLPG can’t? I could imagine geotagging in WLPG also linking up to Live Maps and maybe even get there to be public Photosynths.

3. Lack of fancy photo effects – Black & White effect is a nice start, but there should be more effects built-in to WLPG. Picnik has a great array of such neat effects like Pixelate, Heatmap, Posterize, Sepia, and a bunch of them all easily applied to images of all kinds, and ease in adjusting effects. Not to forget about the ability to add borders, ClipArt shapes on top of photos, text overlay, AND the ability to create your own custom effects. It’s just amazing.

4. Ability to pull up images from other web services – Picnik also has partnered with a lot of services out there to easily transcribe users’ photos into their web application so you can make changes you like and save them that way, and they’ll automatically change on your other service. Having that ability in WLPG would be great.

5. Collage and photo album maker – Microsoft’s AutoCollage is neat, and if it ever gets out of MSR, it could be incorporated into WLPG, instead of another application. I would also like a general collage maker where groups of 2 or more photos are placed next to each other in some type of pattern. Again, Microsoft could use Picnik as maybe some sort of inspiration on how to do it right. Having a photo album (akin to maybe looking like a scrapbook, neat backgrounds behind photos, special borders, annotations, etc.) maker would also be a plus, instead of just regular grouping in a folder.

6. Annotations – Please! I’d love to annotate my photos with special comments on particular parts of an image.

7. Edit Brush – Sometimes I want to apply edits only to a particular part of the image, and having a Brush would certainly help, especially if there were different shapes and sizes to work with.

8. Separation of videos, or the addition of video editing – Having video content being viewable in WLPG is pretty useless, besides organizing them into folders and tagging. So either it should stay out of WLPG completely, or allow some nice simple touch-up tools for videos. Playing videos in WLPG is NOT fun.

9. Online service – I also wish there was a nice online version of WLPG, with as much functionality as possible. Using Silverlight maybe?

So overall, WLPG has some nice new goodies, but it could still keep on improving. Maybe Microsoft maybe hasn’t taken the hint from my post, but I think Picnik is a great model of how image editing should be done for your average web user.

Annoying part of comments in Windows Live Spaces

I sometimes check out my friends blogs, and read what they have to say. Sometimes I take a bit of a long time typing them, because I might want to reference something, or I’m just too busy. Well, an error has come up on many occasions where after writing a comment for a long period of time, I get a message that says: The server has encountered an error. Please try again.

It always happens like that. Take too long, and there’s a server issue. Isn’t that quite frustrating?

With a bunch of updates rolling out for Windows Live items, I can’t wait to check out what the new Windows Live Spaces (or Profiles, as it might be called). But Live Spaces is bugging me, with not having more frequent update, you’d come to expect other sites to do. I can only hope that Live Spaces will be saved.