Time and again, I’ve seen old school spacers asking "Why, O Lord! Why?" when it comes to Spaces and the new (wave 3) Windows Live services. They tend to be upset by the changes and how complicated navigation has become in the WL universe. Many of them are especially distraught by the removal of Spaces Central, the public page where you could browse and search for others’ spaces, see newly updated spaces, view showcased spaces, and get tips from experts. Considering the audience of this blog, you may even be among their numbers.
Back in the olden times, WL Spaces was a nexus of the Windows Live social network, if there even was such as thing. It was one of the first services to get a xxx.live.com style URL (and a personalized one to boot), making it easy to share with the WL community, as well as friends and family. In fact, your space was the primary stop for people trying to find you (or at least the digital version of you) on Windows Live.
Things changed considerably with wave 3. Now, the Profile is king, and Spaces is looking like the odd man out. The public Spaces page and search engine are gone. When you click a user tile on a WL page, there isn’t even an option to view the user’s space; you’ve got to go through their Profile to get to their space. The themes, while still numerous, are missing the dynamic wave 3 designs. The standard wave 3 header links, which have been added to almost every other service by this point, are conspicuously absent from Spaces, making it feel like something of a dead-end. The WL team has stripped down Spaces, removing Friends (which became part of WL People), Photos (those are now part of SkyDrive), and even Lists (now oddly living under Profile, but primarily accessible via Spaces – except for "favorite things" lists, which are part of Profile all the way).
I too was surprised to discover that a lot of the search tools were curbed in wave 3, but I think there’s more method to Microsoft’s madness than we know. I see that Microsoft is going for the smaller-networks-with-more-quality-connections approach to social networking. It’s not nearly as easy to pick a stranger’s space at random and strike up a relationship, but it is far easier to cultivate quality relationships with those people you do know and those you add to your network. I think the ultimate goal is to make WL feel less like random strangers whose rafts are tied together in the middle of the ocean, and more like a small circle of friends. Given my participation in activities, such as WL Groups and the Clubhouse, I can report that my network has grown three-fold since the wave 3 roll-out, and you know what? They’re mostly active WL users who regularly interact and generate richer content than ever before. I’ll take that kind of a quality over quantity anytime.
Back to Spaces. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with my space, and Spaces in general. Along with Hotmail, Spaces was one of the things that drew me to Windows Live in the first place. I love the idea of a personal web "space" that I can arrange however I want. And it’s fun to tinker with my personal space, adding modules, arranging layout, etc. But most people’s spaces are an eye-sore, overloaded with too much crap that, frankly, most people don’t want to see. If I add a tiny "Pac-Man" game to my space via a module, who am I really adding it for? If it’s for me, then my space is not the most logical choice for a home page anymore (home.live.com or my.live.com offer much better solutions), so how much time am I really going to spend visiting my own space? If it’s for my visitors, then surely there are better places on the vastness of the Internet that they can go play games. Are my friends really going to appreciate having to step around my clutter every time they visit, just to see "the good stuff?" And now that there are better ways to get to my photos, files, lists, etc., do I really need to force that traffic through my space? With the advent of the new services, why is Spaces even relevant anymore?
The answer is my blog. Since it’s still exclusively part of my space, there’s no other way to get to it. To me, inviting people into my blog and the rest of my Windows Live world through my space instead of my profile feels an awful lot like asking a visitor to come into my house through the bathroom window instead of the front door.
I think it’s time to change that. How about de-coupling the blog (just like they’ve done with Friends, Photos, and Lists) and reorganizing it somewhere else in WL that makes more sense? I don’t know where that would be, perhaps even somewhere on SkyDrive. That way, I can retire my space (or at least move it to my back-burner) and folks can get directly from my Profile page to my WL Blog (perhaps via a link on the left side, just like the ones currently provided by Photos and SkyDrive). To really make this work as an option, though, my Profile page really needs a friendly, custom URL (xxx.profile.live.com), so that I can share it with my non-WL friends and family.
For folks who still want to keep their space front and center, no worries. I’m not advocating the end of Spaces altogether. They could still keep their space’s custom URL, they can still choose to show their latest blog entries on their space page using a module (much like it works now), and they could even keep the Blog link at the top of the space. They could blissfully pretend that the rest of Windows Live doesn’t exist and continue to live in their Spaces bubble, narrow as the view may be.
What do you think? What’s your hope for the future of Spaces from here on out?