Is Windows Live Delivering What Google Buzz Promised?

While everyone has been dissecting the Google Me rumor, I’ve been taking a look at Microsoft’s Windows Live Wave 4. Here are a few key features with my thoughts on how they contrast with Google Buzz.

User Base ~300 million

Google tried to leverage its Gmail user base when it launched Buzz. What ensued was a privacy nightmare. Microsoft has had no such issues when leveraging its Instant Messaging user base.

Windows Messenger has a user base of 299 million, compared to Gmail’s 173 million. I also think that a greater proportion of Windows Messenger users will actively use its social features than the proportion of Gmail users who actively use Buzz.

Open Standards Support: Activity Streams

It’s difficult to read any Buzz propaganda without encountering the mention of Open Standards.

Windows Live uses Activity Streams-compliant feeds from Facebook, MySpace, and a dozen other partners.

Superior Privacy Settings

Read this post from the Inside Windows Live blog for a comprehensive look at the privacy options. Here are a couple of screenshots:

Windows Live Privacy Options

Windows Live Advanced Privacy Options

Not only are the options very granular to a deep level, they’re presented in a very intuitive, easy-to-understand fashion. If you customize your settings to an intricate level, you can also quickly view a Friend’s profile and see exactly what he will see from your updates.

Commitment to Data Portability

Microsoft, unlike Facebook, has unequivocally made it clear that you own your data.

…if you would like to access your Windows Live data from a different third party service, or even take your data completely to another service, you should be able to do that. To enable this, we give you ways to export your data from Windows Live into common formats, so that you can import it to wherever you like…

Developers and third-party applications can use Live ID for authentication, and use Public APIs for accessing public information.

Aggregating Other Social Networks & Web Services

At last count in Nov 2009, Windows Live had partnered with 74 services from around the web to pull in updates to your feed.

Windows Live Services

These include Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, and a plethora of services for video sharing, photo sharing, blogging, reviews, ratings, etc. Further, these are localized in 35 languages.

Ex-Friendfeeders have migrated in large numbers to Buzz. Surprisingly, Windows Live is more Friendfeeder-friendly than Buzz, at least at present.

The process for adding your profile from another service to Windows Live is extremely simple and easy-to-use, compared to the tortuous approach in Google Buzz.

Two-Way Integration with Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn

The Salmon protocol is not here yet, and we don’t know if Facebook and others will support it. What we do know is that you can interact with your Facebook feed from within Windows Live today.

Your status updates, photo uploads, etc. can be pushed to other networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and soon, LinkedIn as well. You can comment on your friends updates in those networks from within Windows Live.

Friends vs. Acquaintances

A nice little feature lets you perform a “reluctant accept” or a “polite decline” of friend requests.

Windows Live Polite Decline

Selecting the “Limit the access…” box lets me accept the friend request as an acquaintance who only sees the updates I set for All Friends, and not all my photos or contact information.

To me, this feature shows that Microsoft is “getting social” like nobody else today.

Mark People as Favorites

In any news feed, whether Facebook, Buzz, or Twitter, I wish there was a way to choose people whose updates I don’t want to miss. Windows Live allows you to do that.

Windows Live Favorites


Note the Highlights, Recent, etc. links in the above screenshot giving me quick access to key filters for my news feed.

One of the features much wanted in Buzz has been the ability to filter out updates based on the service imported – Twitter, Flickr, etc. Windows Live lets you do that today:

Windows Live Filter By Service

You can also set many other filters for what you wish to see in your news feed:

Windows Live Filters

See this post by Dare Obasanjo for more on how Windows Live is designed to reduce noise and focus on the signal.

Windows Live on iPhone

The free Windows Live Messenger iPhone app has chat, aggregated social feed, photo upload and email. Microsoft will have something better when Windows Phone 7 comes out later this year, but it’s noteworthy that they didn’t shun the iOS platform just because they have a rival mobile OS.

Closing Thoughts

Windows Live may not support as many open standards and protocols as Google Buzz does, but do end users really care? Windows Live doesn’t present an either-Facebook-or-Buzz dilemma, and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel by building a network from the ground up. It leverages Messenger’s large user base without compromising on privacy and data portability. These can be important lessons for any Head of Social.

Most importantly, unlike Buzz, it keeps things simple, stupid!

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  • Resuna

    I think you're mixing up Buzz and Facebook.

    We don't need fine-tuned privacy settings. We just need privacy settings that don't change. In many ways fine-tuned ones are worse because they're more likely to get messed up. “Everything public”, like Twitter, is a perfectly valid setting. You just can't go from “private” to “public” without opt-in… which is where Facebook and (initially at least) Buzz screwed up.

  • Resuna,

    I wasn't mixing Buzz and Facebook:

    – Buzz used a opt-in model by default
    – Many users *do* want fine-tuned privacy settings. Windows Live provides them in case you want them, without offering a complex interface. Buzz has only two settings – private/public as you mention.
    – Unlike Buzz altering their strategy like a knee-jerk reaction, the Windows Live team appears to have thought out everything well in advance.

  • Deep coverage of an under discussed major shift in the social web. Excellent journalism Mahendra.

    I admit this positively matches many of the requirements I look for in social networks.
    Will it work from Linux?

  • Resuna

    Buzz used an opt-out model. If you had a gmail account, you were opted in to buzz and given a random selection of followers. You had to explicitly opt out. Same problem as Facebook.

    Buzz isn't like Facebook. It's more like a cross between Twitter and Usenet, and strongly slanted towards “public” from the start. And that's OK, so long as they're consistent.

    People think they want fine grained settings, but really what they want is predictable behaviour. Consider the massive success of Twitter.

    The downside of fine-grained settings is that (a) people get confused (that's the problem with Facebook that Windows Live is trying to avoid), and (b) if you ever want to change the granularity (which you're going to want to do, inevitably, as you fine-tune things) it's a lot of work to let people opt-in to the new settings, so you're strongly tempted to make the changes for everyone (and that's the other problem with Facebook).

  • Duh! I meant opt-out. 🙂

    “People think they want fine grained settings, but really what they want is predictable behaviour. Consider the massive success of Twitter.”

    Also consider continuing popularity of Facebook despite the success of Twitter. Why is that the case? Because Twitter's public/private model lacks granular privacy controls and most use it only as a public network, leaving space for Facebook to fill.

    Agreed about downside of fine-grained settings. I hope Windows Live is avoiding them and certainly don't think reverting to a simpler public/private model is a solution.

  • Mark,

    Thanks. The web-based interface of Windows Live works from any browser on any platform. I believe the APIs exposed by Messenger Connect should make third-party clients interoperate with it on other platforms too.

  • You just can't go from “private” to “public” without opt-in… which is where and screwed up.

  • In many ways fine-tuned ones are worse because they're more likely to get messed up.

  • Resuna

    I'm not saying they're wrong, I'm saying that they're different. They're not the same kind of product at all.

    Comparing Windows Live to Buzz is a category error. Buzz is much more like Twitter on steroids than it is like Facebook, and Windows Live is more competing with Facebook than it is with Buzz.

  • I beg to differ. Both Buzz and Windows Live are meant to be aggregators of your social activities presented in a unified stream. That Buzz is instead looking like Twitter on steroids is because of it's failure. (They made it incredibly difficult to add other sites to it.)

    Agreed, Buzz isn't like Facebook.

    Disagree that Windows Live is competing with Facebook. Instead, it's embracing it, unlike Buzz, which pretends as if Facebook didn't exist (because they hoped it would compete against it).

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  • LPCA

    hey, got a comment for ya!

    stop lobbying for Microsoft, they got their own mouth!
    btw, your ridiculous to compare the PROPRIETARY word between GOOGLE and MICROSOFT.

    that’s like comparing computers to calculators! just because one has chips, doesn’t makes it a computer!

    peace out!

  • Hahaha Google Buzz say bye bye already : )

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