Archive for December 2nd, 2004

An instant review of spaces.msn.com, Microsoft’s new blogging service, with special attention to how it compares with Typepad.

Spaces.msn.com is Microsoft’s new blogging service, released in beta to
the public yesterday.  I invested most of my afternoon today
setting up a new blog on the service, in order to try it out.

My new
test blog is called “Strategy.”  You can visit it at
 ” title=”http://spaces.msn.com/members/strategy/feed.rss
” target=”_blank”>http://spaces.msn.com/members/strategy/f…


I intend to
develop the blog into a place to discuss strategic thinking, strategy
making and the use of ecological concepts in strategy.

I.   Overall, I found the Microsoft service
to be an attractive beta entry into the field.  It has a good,
simple interface, and it provides core blogging functions
effectively.  It is not a visionary product–it is, perhaps not
surprisingly, a fast-follower product that looks and feels very much
like its leading competitors. Because the service looks and feels most
like Typepad, and because I view Typepad as the current market and
feature leader, I’ve focused on comparing and contrasting
 spaces.msn.com and Typepad in this review.

A.   Spaces.msn.com needs a number
of improvements, and I expect Microsoft will make many of them over the
next few weeks. One big advantage of a service launch is that changes
to the service can be made more or less continuously as necessary:

The service is VERY SLOW, especially on
posting, which may be a product of an unexpected number of heavy intial
hits, or may signal a deeper problem with traffic capacity in the
infrastructure.  In any case, speed needs to be improved.

There are expected features that are missing, such as visitor data.

Most problematic–the posting editing system is primitive.

B.   There are three major strengths of the service:

It uses RSS 2.0, which is the widest
adopted, simplest to use of the syndication standards.  This put
Microsoft firmly in support of the most open of the syndication
standards–RSS 2.0 has been put into the commons by placing ownership
with the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School.  This is in
contrast to Google, Typepad, and IBM–but in alignment with the widest
part of the user community, and most big media syndicators, such as the
New York Times. 

And perhaps more important, support for RSS 2.0 puts Microsoft, for now
at least, in the position of supporting the most simple sharing
standard, and thus supporting the community innovation that is
currently developing on top of this sharing standard.  This is in
contrast to what one might have feared from Microsoft, which would have
been to support a proprietary sharing standard and make innovation more
difficult for other parties.

Integration to other Microsoft services opens up new avenues for communicating and social networking.

The global reach and promotion of the service, in 17 initial languages
and 26 world markets, is extraordinary.   I have addressed
this in more depth in #F, below, as well as in another post, Hello Noosphere! here at Berkman, and on my site at spaces.msn.com
See
 II.   The strengths and weaknesses of the
service are discussed in more detail in the lettered sections below,
with special attention to a comparison to Typepad. 

A.   The display of the basic blog is very much as in Typepad.  The look and
feel of a site is determined by one, two, or three-panel designs, as in
Typepad, with a number of color templates available.  Added to the
blog, at the very top edge of the page, are handy links to three
features intended to make 
spaces.msn.com AND your site spread by viral
action:

Get your own space | Syndicate this site | Tell a friend width=”15″>

And at the bottom of the page is a discrete, and also handy, set of
links to communicate with Microsoft about the blog experience, as well
as links to ads for Microsoft services:

Try MSN Internet Software for FREE! Feedback | Report Abuse |Help

 MSN Home  |  My MSN  |  Hotmail  |  Shopping  |  Money  |  People & Chat


For better or worse, the Microsoft brand is obviously, if tastefully,
all over your home page.  Some will like this, and some won’t, of
course.

A related problem is that you cannot do domain mapping. That is, you
can’t register your own domain and then get the Microsoft service to
look like it is in your domain.  Thus, again, you are in a
Microsoft environment.  For large companies and experienced
bloggers this may be a problem. On the other hand, I know many
businesses and individuals that use Hotmail or Yahoo! email addresses,
and even Adam Curry uses a Radio address for his blog–and look, I use
a Berkman address happily for my blog–so many will appreciate the
Microsoft address and, if I may say so, the Microsoft-brand-legitimized
sub-namespace.

B.   The customization interface
is also an easy-to-use (a plus) but feature-lacking (a minus) version
of Typepad.
  The Microsoft interface allows you to quickly select
a one, two, or three column blog, and select a color scheme or
design.  I chose an ecological theme called “rainforest.”

You can then select from a number of
pre-designed modules, ranging from the basic blog itself, to book and music lists,
archives, photo albums, and so on.  These modules can then be moved between
panels and re-ordered top-to-bottom with an object-oriented interface
very much like that in Typepad.  The interface for customization
improves on Typepad by putting these two features–the list of modules
and the presentation of modules–on the same overall screen.

However, there are severe limitations to the customization.  To
start with, one is limited to the modules that are provided, and to
just on in each category.  In Typepad, modules–called “lists” are
essentially unlimited, and can also be shared among multiple
blogs. 

Second, a critical module is missing: “recent posts.”  This
module is seen as vital by many active bloggers.

Third, there is no “email this post to a friend” feature–also missing in Typepad but much loved by users of Blogger.

Most important, there is no apparent way to do “advanced” customization of one’s
template, using html and css, as there is in Typepad. There is no apparent way to create
and save alternative versions of template designs, modular or advanced, as there is in Typepad.

C.   Posting is more or less effective but
primitive.
  A window opens, into which one puts text, and to which
one can add photos. 

Most damning, the posting editor is not
wysiwyg at all–which puts it behind Typepad, which went full wysiwyg,
albeit with some bugs, recently.  In the Microsoft service, even
very basic functions, like
spacing between lines, must be done with html insets, which is a true
pain.  Another basic function that is missing is automatically
turning a reference to a URL active.

There aren’t even any “widgets” as in pre-wysiwyg Typepad–and one
assumes that widgets would be very easy to implement.  All html must be
hand-coded, including external links to web sites, highlighting, indenting. Tedious!

The limited nature of the
editor seems to me to be a critical problem to solve, if Microsoft
hopes to get newby’s to post–who don’t know html and may not even
understand why their line and paragraph spacing is not being displayed
“properly” (the editor maintains spacing from session to session, but
the display does not handle it).  More wysiwyg will also help them
connect with prolific users, who want to move more quickly than can be
done with html.

The worst aspect of the editor is its handling of photos in
posts.  Many bloggers now routinely add photos, and Typepad can
take any size image and automatically resize it, to create both a
thumbnail inserted in the post, and for use in a larger file size in an
optional pop-up window.  Typepad also allows for instant
customization on an insert-by-insert basis of the size of the thumbnail
to be displayed in the post, and whether and how text wraps the
image.  The Microsoft offering requires you to pre-size your image
or images to less than 1MB per upload, and does not allow customization
of how the images are displayed.

D.   Blog management functions are for the most part missing. 

Amazingly, there are no hit, unique visitor, or referrer stats
provided.  Since there is no apparent way to ad html to the blog
template, I don’t know how I would implement Sitemeter or another
similar third–party service.

There is no provision for multiple authors, and since login is by
Passport account name and password, no easy way to simply share your
 spaces.msn.com name and password with a friend or colleague. 
Needless to say, Typepad is far ahead on this score, with not only
multiple author access, with distinct logins, but with provision for
“junior authors” whose posts are approved by a “senior author.” 
Senior authors post directly.  And Typepad distinguishes the
“owner” who can change the nature of the blog.  More important,
Typepad provides for hand holding of new authors–all one must do, as
an owner, is put in the new person’s name, email adress, and junior or
senior status–and Typepad sends a welcoming message and takes the
person through signup and posting instructions.

These multiple author features have turned out to be crucial for those
using blogs for political action or social change projects–such as the
group human rights blog http://passionofpresent.org or that at
Democracy for America.

There is no provision for multiple blogs.  This is a big
mistake.  I believe people will use blogs for distinct
purposes–and want a source for proliferating blogs.  Each pro
account on Typepad can unleash multiple blogs.  In addition,
Typepad’s shared typelists (essentially, shared modules) facilitates
the easy development of multiple blogs with related or similar content.

E.   Integration wth other Microsoft services is a major focus, and mostly a major plus. 
Integration is close with Microsoft instant messaging, with Passport
(required to set up the blog), with Microsoft Network membership
(required to post a profile of oneself on the blog), and with Microsoft
hotmail (a way to post).

It is assumed that spaces.msn.com sites will be searched and indexed by the new Microsoft search service.

Overall, the integration of communication services seems a trend for
the future, and one where Microsoft  is perhaps stealing a march
on its competitors.

The integration of identify services, i.e. Passport and Network, seems
just a step away from the integration of social networking
services.  I note two odd little queries as part of the
registration process that indicate that dating has been considered
explicitly: First, in setting up one’s blog you are asked to check a
box as to whether your content on the blog is for “adults” and should
have restricted promotion, or is appropriate for a general
audience.  Second, in setting up your profile you are asked it you
would like to be sent “photos of singles in your area” by email. 
This is in addition to the ads for ads Match.com that show almost
continuously as you navigate Microsoft Network.

The integration of services also creates certain dependencies. 
For example, one must sign up for Passport in order to get a blog, and
one must use MSN in order to have a personal profile.  Neither of
these seems too restrictive.  However, one also needs to be logged
into Passport to post comments.  This seems awfully
restrictive.  On our human rights blog
 http://passionofthepresent.org for example, many of our commenters are
in Africa, on thin connections, in Internet cafes, and sometimes under
surviellance.  Being able to comment quickly and freely is a
godsend to them, and to us.  It would seem better to allow the
blog owner to decide whether commenters need to be registered. 

One set of dependencies seems downright entangling, and perhaps
strategically so.  The “music list” feature requires that one
upload lists from Microsoft Media Player, and be using IE with activeX
turned on.  Hmmm.  And I thought perhaps there would be an
interface to iTunes!  Or at least a way to use the Music list to
serve Podcasts..or perhaps there would be a way to link to Amazon.com… 

In fairness, I tested the service with Firefox, Mozilla, and IE, all on
a Mac, and found that the service worked beautifully with all three
browsers..so the product overall gets a plus for being browser and
hardware independent.


F.   Global distribution and business ecosystem strategy: This is the big, big, big play.

This introduction puts Microsoft firmly in support of (1) blogging, (2)
RSS 2.0–the simplest platform, (3) newby users and market growth for
blogging and for RSS, (4) free promotion of basic blogging, which is
important around the world and–as a corrolary–(5) global reach in
multiple languages. 

The entrance of Microsoft may be as big in the blogging/RSS world as
IBM stepping in to play in the nascent personal computer world in the
early 80s…Microsoft will legitimize the service in the eyes of a
larger body of users, and will help correct the misunderstanding that
blogs are a service only for teenage girls.  Blogs will be seen as
respected alternative web sites, more often updated, and much more
easily syndicated.

If successful, Microsoft will create global network effects as bloggers
come online around the world and link to each other through the
Microsoft platform.  Microsoft will have at its fingertips links
and posts signalling relationships and communication patterns among
citizens across the entire world.  Wow!

The introduction of the Microsoft service in 17 languages and 26
markets puts it
into the hands of people across the world–in a way that no other
company has come close to. Typepad has been globalizing, but
market-by-market, and in conjuction with Internet providers and telecom
companies.  This Microsoft introduction, by contrast, introduces a
free, highly viral service to the
entire world at one time. 

Moreover, the integration of the service with Hotmail and with
Messenger will help immensely with worldwide adoption. 
Particularly in the developing world and nations without reliable local
internet service and servers, Hotmail and Messenger, as well as Yahoo!
mail and instant messaging, are near standards.

Finally, I expect this service to be very popular with small businesses
around the world.  Small businesses will like the association with
the Microsoft brand, they will trust the availability and “future
proofing” of the service, and they will like the price.

For a discussion of the global launch as an example of a business
ecosystem growth strategy, see my post on Hello Noosphere! permalinked
at my blog at Harvard, http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/jim/2004/12… or a similar post on my site at spaces.msn.com
See
http://spaces.msn.com/members/strategy

—————————————————

UPDATE from a comment on my Spaces blog, by tahirzaimoglu, in
Turkey.  Visit his blog at
 

I believe revenue sharing can be added to Spaces. Money will
atract much more visitors around the world and everyone will try to
start promoting their websites therefore they will work for microsft
too. Microsoft Wallet can be integrated to Spaces and with revenue
sharing Microsoft wallet will be the biggest web credit card soon.

A
problem with the intial release of Spaces is that there is no
provision for running ads and making money for the individual. 
This is in contrast to Typepad and to most other blog services and blog
software.  Indeed it is counter to most web site hosting
services.  Ads are crucial.  Everybody likes ads, but they
are particularly important for a global service.  Ad revenue,
especially in the developing world,
would provide web-based earnings to small businesses and individuals
that are among the most connected and progressive in their societies.
For example, web ad payments to sites in China are thought by a friend
of mine at Human Rights in China to be one of the most important things
one can do to help the Chinese to liberty.. The same could be true in
Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. Now we just have
to work with the US State Department to figure out a way to make the
money transfers, and not be seen as shipping funds to terrorists. Of
course, where MSN has a local service in the market, this might not be
a problem.

December 2nd, 2004

Hello Noosphere! Microsoft launches blog service with–importantly–global reach and multiple languages.

>>>The quiet launch of Microsoft’s public blogging service, Spaces.msn.com, is the start of something very big..mark my words 🙂 

Note the global nature of the service–14 languages–and then consider
the potential impact of the obvious next step:  cross-language
blog translation and links..Hello noosphere!

I don’t expect the other blog platforms to remain far behind..the
competitive dynamic will bring multi-language features sooner than
would have happened without this stimulus, and will help make blogs
accessible to people across the whole world..

Spaces.msn. com will rapidly become an important platform for the global second superpower of wired citizen activists..

The global introduction of Spaces.msn.com, by the way, is a classic
“business ecosystem” play–when a particular market/landscape is
already highly populated by competitors, find a way to spread your
seeds and seedlings across other landscapes that are less densely
settled..

In 1996 Bill Gates and I had a discussion about business ecosystems and
business strategy, where he told me a story about Microsoft’s first
foray into spreadsheets, with a product then called Multiplan. 
Multiplan was conceived as a competitor to Lotus 123, with both running
on MS DOS.  But Multiplan failed in the United States, because 123
was already well established, and an entire ecosystem of complementary
products and services has grown up around 123.  Bill said that
after some time, he finally realized there was no market in the US for
anything but a direct clone of 123.  But he also realized that
there was no French language version of 123, and that France was an
open landscape for Multiplan.  So Microsoft initiated a strategy
program to transplant Multiplan to France.  Multiplan become the
dominant spreadsheet in France, with all the network effects that
result from being a standard.  Multiplan’s establishment in France
enabled the product to generate revenues and thrive as a
business.  Because of both the money and the user base, Microsoft
was able to improve and expand the product, foster complementary
applications and services, establish a thriving ecosystem and learn how
to be a steward of the ecosystem.

The Multiplan germ was also continually prepared for eventual
re-introduction into the US market,  where Microsoft put in place
a plan to change the landscape in a way that would disable 123 and
prepare open ground for the successor to Multiplan.  The landscape
altering plan would be the introduction of the Windows operating system
as the new ground of the personal computer lanscape, replacing MS
DOS.  The disabling of 123 was accomplished by signalling to Lotus
and to IBM that Microsoft would support an alternative groundscape,
OS2, and thus luring Lotus into developing its next generation of 123
for the wrong ground.

Of course, the rest is history.  Windows beat OS2, 123 was delayed
in releasing for Windows, and Microsoft Excell, the successor to
Multiplan, spread like kudzu vines across the US market.

Typepad and Blogger, take note.

Here is an excerpt from the Spaces.msn.com story in the Seattle Times:

MSN Spaces, Microsoft’s new, free service, courts bloggers

>>By Kim Peterson
Seattle Times technology reporter

>

height=”148″ width=”200″>
>KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
>Blake
Irving from Microsoft’s MSN division unveils the company’s new feature
for Web logs, MSN Spaces, in Seattle Tuesday. The service became
available online yesterday.
>

E-mail >E-mail this article
Print >Print this article
Print >Search archive
Most read articles >Most read articles
Most e-mailed articles >Most e-mailed articles

Microsoft has one of the most prolific corporate blogger bases, with at
least 1,100 employees running their own Web logs, but the company has
not made it easy for users to do the same — until now.

>Microsoft’s MSN
division launched a test Web log service yesterday that lets users
stake out their own territory online. Called MSN Spaces, the free
service gives users a Web page where they can post photos in a slide
show format and publish musings.

>The service is in beta release at spaces.msn.com, and is available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide.

>At the same time,
Microsoft released a new version of MSN Messenger, its
instant-messaging service, that works closely with Spaces and features
customized backgrounds and pop-up animations called Winks.

>That version, also
in beta release, allows users to send messages using the Web from
computers that don’t have the MSN Messenger software installed. It was
scheduled to be available online yesterday but was not working at press
time, at messenger.msn.com/beta.

December 2nd, 2004


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