Reaching out

I recently mused in one of my Windows Live Groups about the future of Windows Live Home, the role of the What’s New feed, and dragging people kicking and screaming into my Windows Live network. It seemed like interesting fodder for a Clubhouse post, so thought I’d pare it down (yes, this is the pared down version, I’m long-winded) and blog about the highlights.

Now that Web Activities have proven themselves to be a useful element of Windows Live, I’m starting to believe that the service really needs to figure out a way alternatively to push out updates about our activities to other services across the Web. I mean, it’s great if I can pull together what others are doing on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace right in my WNF, but it requires those people to actually know/care enough about Windows Live to set up those Web Activities in the first place. But suppose I could configure the reverse scenario, so that when I do something here on WL, the service pushes those updates out to FB, MySpace, and others by my design, with a link pointing back to the original content on Windows Live. How sick would that be? Sure it would be tough to implement, because all of those various services have their own lingo and style for sharing stuff. However, I’d wager in the long run, it would create a lot more buzz around those Windows Live services that we all know and love. For instance, more people would start using Windows Live Photos if they knew that all their Facebook and MySpace friends could automatically see their updates on those services and follow a link back to their album. Makes sense to me, anyway.

UPDATE: Windows Live compatriot Jeffrey has found a simple and effective way to implement this kind of social "push," and it’s been part of Windows Live all along. The WNF is RSS-compatible, which means that your WL activities can be dovetailed into any service that understands RSS. Best of all, the feed only includes the public stuff you’ve actually done WL (no private group or web activities), so the chances of "ricochet sharing" (i.e., tweeting about a Facebook link to a LiveJournal blog post you recently dugg) are minimal. The possibilities are endless. Thanks, Jeff for being Windows Live’s very own MacGyver!

Another thing we really need to improve/supplement Web Activities is the so-called "imaginary friend," a feature which is currently found on FriendFeed. In a nutshell, it would allow me to create a virtual contact (or augment an existing contact) in my network, so that I can manually attach their public/private updates on various services and see them all in my What’s New feed on my Windows Live Home page.

For instance, I have a friend who doesn’t use Windows Live at all, but he has a blog with a public RSS feed. I could attach an "imaginary" activity to his contact record in Windows Live People, and my What’s New feed would start grabbing his updates just like a common RSS aggregator.

Here’s another example: my lovely wife uses Windows Live, Facebook, and Twitter, but for whatever reason, she hasn’t wired up the Web Activities yet. Until she does, I have to hopscotch between different sites to follow her updates. Instead of waiting for her to do it, I could just wire up "imaginary" activities, so that my What’s New feed starts pulling in her Facebook and Twitter updates alongside everything else. Wait a minute, you say, how is Windows Live supposed to grab Facebook and Twitter updates? Well, she’s in my networks on those services, and I’ve supplied my Facebook and Twitter credentials to Windows Live for the current Web Activities. Windows Live could just fetch her updates on my behalf at set intervals. Granted, that may be a lot more work in practice than in my imagination (things always seem really easy to accomplish there), but it certainly seems plausible.

Best of all, it would help me get great updates in my What’s New feed, and my friends and family don’t have to lift a finger. Bottom line: that kind of enhancement would give me a lot more control over my What’s New feed by making it more of a custom RSS aggregator on steroids.

– Greg

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3 thoughts on “Reaching out

  1. Some of this might already be doable. For example, back on 5/20/09 I added a “What’s new with Greg” feed that currently has 535 items in it of just Greg related shenanigans on Windows Live. This feed could be easily imported to FB using the “Imported Stories” feature. I have no idea what the links would look like, but the links and pictures seem to work OK with your blog. And as you know, FF works as an application in FB as well. The FB web activity uses the new social network protocol which apparently requires passwords, etc. FriendFeed – using feeds instead – does not require this, and as such, does not require passwords. Therefore, Ginny’s secret password is still a secret if you use a feed!I don’t know if the social network protocol is push or pull or if it matters. What I do know is that when you pull, you usually know what you’re pulling such as a RSS feed. Pushing is different and requires advanced knowledge of what to push. What I push to FB might need to be different than what I push to MySpace – unless there is a clearly defined protocol or interface for these “social pushes.” And there is now. And I’m guess it works by polling.In lieu of imaginary friends, the concept of which is probably patented, I would suggest that we be allowed multiple instances of each web activity a la FriendFeed. The truth is that there is nothing special about an imaginary friend. It’s mostly for grouping. You could have a FB feed in FriendFeed for yourself and another for Ginny – all in your Home feed all showing as you as well as multiple others. They are hard to separate though, as FriendFeed doesn’t allow you to name each individual FB feed. But it does allow you to tie them to a user – even if it’s a fake imaginary user. So, it’s really for convenience to identify different instances of the same type web activity, but being able to name the feed something else unique like “Ginny’s FaceBook” would accomplish nearly the same thing in Windows Live – provided you had two FB web activities to work with in the first place. In fact, it would probably be easier to make and manage them.Using FriendFeed as an example, I set one up using you, Greg with your FaceBook. It works fine. I could import that feed into Windows Live now. I am already using my FB web activity, and since I don’t know your password, I couldn’t just set up a FB web activity for you in any event. Anyway, I have suggested/requested that they at the very least allow us multiple (as in unlimited!!!) instances of the generic Blog web activity. One is not enough. And we should then be allowed to custom name them. This is more in line with what Windows Live is already doing. If they did this, then you could grab Ginny’s FB feed and put it in your What’s new stream in whatever manner you wished to share it – be it just you personally or with a group category like “Family” or everyone. I already do this type of thing, but because there is just the SINGLE Blog/RSS web activity to manage this feat, I must feed everything through FriendFeed to aggregate it and then give it the MOST limited access – which of course is that only I can see the feed on my Windows Live Profile. Also, if I were to share it with everyone, people would just block me for being a What’s new stream flooder. I wouldn’t want that! But having multiple Blog/RSS web activities would mean that each could have its own scope of visibility custom defined. While my FB can be seen by most people in my network, your FB feed could be set to only be seen by me while my Twitters are seen only by other people using Twitter. If you ask me, these improvements would make the Web Activities nearly as useful as those on FriendFeed. FF does, however, allow you to do create lists – each of which can have a feed and saved searches and much more. WL will likely not go that far in our lifetimes. This is probably my longest reply ever at 725 words! Yikes!

  2. I love it when you two bounce ideas off each other! Right, so really you both want the ‘What’s new with your Network’ to become more like friendfeed? I do agree Jeffrey about the single abiity of the RSS, we need more and also the ability to name each one as well. Blimey, I would have a field day! LOL Greg, have you ever used Flock? Okay its not Windows Live of course, but it does allow you to have all of your updates from MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, et all all on one page and, using RSS feeds you would be more than able to set it up so that Ginny’s stuff was also visible via your MyWorld page. Of course it takes some setting up especially to do what you want to do, but it would all then be visible on the same page. Just a thought. Take a look and see what you think

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