Microsoft this week unveiled three important and previously announced updates to its Windows Live Wave 3 series of products and services (see my overview): Web Messenger integration, new activities, and social networking services contacts integration. None of these is a game changer, per se, but they all serve to further bolster Microsoft's integration vision for Windows Live Wave 3. Let's take a look.
While Microsoft's full-featured Windows Live Messenger client is the way to go if you're an instant messaging (IM) fan, sometimes you find yourself in front of a public PC, a friend's PC, or some other PC where Messenger isn't installed. Or you may have two Windows Live IDs (for some reason) and want to logon to both simultaneously; you could logon via Windows Live Messenger and Web Messenger simultaneously with different accounts.
Whatever your reason, you're good to go: Via links in the web-based services Windows Live Hotmail (email) and Windows Live People (contacts management), you can now message with your friends at any time. (A previous Web Messenger version, MSN Web Messenger, is more of a standalone web app and is still available.)
Web Messenger provides a few basic features:
Sign into the Messenger service from the web. Web Messenger lets you sign into your Messenger account from the web and set an availability level, such as Available, Busy, Away, or Appear Offline.
Receive Messenger alerts on the web. While logged on via the web, you will see small Messenger-like "toast" alerts pop-up in the lower-right corner of the browser window.
Send and receive instant messages from the web. While logged on via the web, you can receive messages from any of your Messenger-based contacts and send messages to anyone in your Messenger or Windows Live People contacts lists.
View contacts' IM status from Hotmail. If you receive an email from a contact on your Messenger friends list, you'll see a small colored pearl next to their name in the FROM field. This pearl indicates the contact's online status, as it does in the standalone Messenger application.
In use, Web Messenger works fine, with no major surprises. Web-based Messenger conversation windows pop-up when someone messages you, and look surprisingly similar to normal Windows Live Messenger conversation windows. You lose some of the more esoteric formatting options, but get emoticons and nudges (why??). For some reason, the contact pictures are on the right side of the conversation window, instead of the left, as they are in Windows Live Messenger; they also cannot be turned off. (In fact, I didn't see any Web Messenger configuration options at all.)
Web Messenger integration with Hotmail is available now in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and USA. (It's also available in France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and the UK; those countries actually got this functionality in March.) Microsoft promises to roll it out in more countries in the coming month.
Next week, Microsoft will bolster the list of third party services that integrate with Windows Live Messenger by 20, bringing the total to over 30. Some of the new partners are major league services, too, including Facebook, PhotoBucket, SmugMug, and many others. (Less well-publicized: Microsoft is finally adding support for its own services, including MSN and the Zune Social.)
These new services aren't available as I write this, but you can see the interface for integrating with third party services in Windows Live if you visit your Windows Live Home portal and then click on the link Add web activities. The resulting page provides links for supported third party services. If you're a member of any of these, you can add them to your "What's New?" feed, set a privacy level, and move on to the next service.
You can view the aggregated output from all of the services you add in this fashion via your Windows Live Profile page, as can others if you've configured the privacy controls to allow that. With Windows Live adding more and more third party service compatibility, it's really starting to come through on Microsoft's promise of providing a single location from what you can broadcast all of your various affiliations and memberships.
These new services will be configurable through Windows Live starting next week.
Contacts partners integration
Finally, Microsoft will also be adding the ability to share contacts between Windows Live and new third party services. (Facebook and LinkedIn contacts integration is already available.) The next three to come on board are Hi5, MySpace, and Tagged. Via this interface, you'll be able to ask your Hi5, MySpace, and Tagged-based contacts to join your Windows Live service, and vice versa. This way, you don't have to manually duplicate your contacts list across all the services that are important to you.
You import contacts into Windows Live via the Add People link on your Windows Live Home portal (or Profile page). Today, this interface allows Facebook and LinkedIn integration only, of course, but MySpace and the others will be up next week. You select a service from the drop-down list, sign-in, and then select the contacts you'd like to invite, and then send the invite(s), along with an optional message.
As with the new activities, these new contacts partnerships will go live next week.
Windows Live Wave 3 is a huge and dramatic change over its predecessors, but when you step back and really think about what it is that Microsoft is trying to accomplish here, it's all rather incredible. I noted in my review of the Windows Live Wave 3 services that "the goal is to provide consumers with a central location from which they can manage these many online personas, reach out to people they care about, and share things with others." Obviously, for this to happen, there needs to be deep integration with the non-Microsoft services that people really use. Flickr. Facebook. MySpace. The big guys.
In the initial release of the Wave 3 services, only some of that was in place. Now, just a few months later, Microsoft is finally expanding the Windows Live tent to include a more representative group of services, both on the What's New feed side and on the contacts integration side. This should make Windows Live more relevant to users.
For those that are already invested in Windows Live, Web Messenger integration with Windows Live Hotmail and People is obvious and not particularly earth-shattering, but it's a nice addition. Taken in tandem with the other updates coming this month, it seems that Microsoft's Wave 3 is really starting to come together.