If you're tired of just reading or writing text blogs and want new ways to add life to your online abode, Windows Live Spaces makes room for Gadgets and interactive tools that visitors to your personal page can play with.
This update to MSN Spaces gets a streamlined new look and feel, which you can customize by picking colors or a template with backgrounds that show sports, puppies, hearts, and other themes. You must pay for a Premium account to remove the ad banner, which replaces the text ads from MSN Spaces.
Microsoft says there are about 120 million Spaces users. Unfortunately, if you already keep an MSN Spaces account, your URL will change with this upgrade (for example, to mypage.spaces.live.com from mypage.spaces.msn.com), but typing the old domain name will take you to the new one, and all of your content remains untouched.
Creating an account from scratch takes some time to get started. During setup, you can choose whether to make your profile public or to restrict viewing to trusted contacts. The Contact Info page lets you give away your birthday, home and business address, and significant other's vital stats, if you wish. We like that Windows Live's Permissions settings allow you to designate access to either the general public, to direct contacts or contacts with three degrees of separation, or to specific people. You can also designate who sees what on your Space--a lifesaver if you want to, earmark, say, your honeymoon photo album as boss-proof. Windows Live Spaces' Options page lets you syndicate your space, which will broadcast an RSS feed of your updates to the world at large. With just two mouse clicks, you can delete your space; but we'd like an extra step to keep us from making an accidental wipeout.
While there's a wealth of permissions options, in our tests, we didn't find these to be easy for grade-school kids to follow. Because a service like this one is likely to attract young users, we'd like a process that better spells out, in dead-simple language, the repercussions of broadcasting your identity to the world.
Microsoft wants Spaces to serve as a virtual crash pad for you and your friends, whose faces you can display on your page, à la Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. Click a contact, and you can quickly chat by using Windows Live Messenger. The new Friends Explorer lets you check out people within your extended network. You can search for people by typing in a name, use Explore to check out people already connected to you, or look up keywords to find Spaces in an area of interest. We found 3,527 Spaces and 211 contact profiles that mentioned insects, for example. Within your list of contacts, and on a module of a world map, a little yellow star lights up to show when someone has updated his or her Space.
Similar to the third-party plug-ins offered by Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8, Windows Live Spaces embraces Gadgets that broaden the scope of functions and interactivity afforded by this blogging tool. It's neat that Windows Live lets you add stock quotes, weather, and horoscope modules to your Space, in addition to the blog and photo gallery added to your page by default. You can visit gallery.live.com for a list of the latest Gadgets. These dynamic tools include games such as Hangman or Feed the Snake, RSS feeds, and shopping. During our initial tests, most of the Gadgets were available only to add to our Live.com private home page and not yet to display at our public Spaces Web site. As Gadgets are built by Microsoft and by third-party developers, expect the list to grow.
It's a no-brainer to drag and drop the content modules and rearrange them on your Space, but we wish that we could resize them, too. The Space Contents module offers quick links to your goods. Windows Live Spaces lets you add a reading list or a music playlist either by exporting songs from Windows Media Player or by typing in tunes one by one. However, MySpace, the preferred social networking tool among musicians and other artists, already provides more multimedia offerings, such as streaming songs and videos. We expect Spaces to attempt to catch up in this area. Added interactivity includes the ability to let people comment on your pictures. You can upload up to 500 photos a month and display a rotating slide show on your home page.
The polished-looking pages of Windows Live Spaces don't have the grassroots, DIY flavor enabled by more-sophisticated blogging services, such as TypePad. And we had a hard time finding parody profiles on Spaces, such as our "pimp squirrel" pal whom we knew and loved on Friendster. You can check the Windows Live Spaces site for selected users' Spaces, which include corporate-built Spaces, such as a community for women's home improvement.
Windows Live Spaces support offerings include a searchable knowledge base and a table of contents. You can click Get More Help to e-mail tech support with a question or to give Microsoft a piece of your mind.
All kinds of Web-based services are becoming more dynamic, enabling social networking and customization. Now that Microsoft is embracing this Web 2.0 technology and serving it for free to a global user base, we're curious to see how Windows Live Spaces will evolve.