Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is Microsoft getting its Social Media act together?


Okay, I’ll wait until you all stop laughing.

Finished yet?

Good. Now that you have picked yourself up off the floor let’s take a look at some stuff that’e been announced in the last little while that could prove that Microsoft may finally be coming to the Social Media game in a big way. I realize that when we think of Social Media basically three major companies come to mind: Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

I also realize that many people in the industry think of Microsoft as nothing more than a dinosaur who doesn’t know when it’s time to head to the tar pits like all good dead dinosaurs. That however is opinions that could end up having to be eaten with a liberal dose of ketchup as Microsoft could very well end up surprising a lot of people.

Surprises like the announcement at The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam about Messenger Connect which in contrast to past efforts by Microsoft is being built on the maturing standards used by an increasing number of Social Media services. These standards are OAuth WRAP, ActivityStreams.ms, and Portable Contacts which are the wrapper around this new Messenger Connect API that in itself is the merging of all of Microsoft’s previous API (Windows Live ID, Contacts API, and Messenger Web Toolkit).

In other words Microsoft is coming to the Social Media game as a partner rather than a big bully dictating how things should be done. They are agreeing to use he same standards as all the other players in order to provide a unifying experience for their users.

As Ori Amiga said on The Windows Blog when talking about some of the considerations that went into this effort

  • Connecting into existing friend relationships is very valuable: In the past, many developers wanted to build up their store for user identities, profile information and social graphs. But over the last few years, it has become increasingly clear to many developers that taking advantage of the existing relationships and communications within the large online networks is more valuable than trying to create their own walled garden
  • Emerging industry standards for social data are easing development: Whether it’s identity and authentication or it’s how contacts and updates are shared between sites, the emergence of industry standards is making it much more efficient for different developers to allow their customers to connect with each other
  • Simple and flexible controls are key for developers: Bringing in social data must feel natural to the developer’s experience. At the same time, developers have busy lives and competing priorities. So social objects have started to become much more easy to embed “as-is” with little required customization – often just pasting a few lines of script. But when you want to customize, it’s important that the developer has the ability to go deeper and really tailor the experience

For their developer partners the team wanted basically three things

  • Instantly create a user profile and social graph: Messenger user profile and social graph information allows our shared customers to easily sign-in and access their friends list and profile information. This allows our partners to more rapidly personalize their experiences, provides a ready-made social graph for customers to interact with, and provides a channel to easily invite additional friends to join in.
  • Drive engagement directly through chat indirectly through social distribution: By enabling both real-time instant messaging conversations (chat) and feed-based sharing options for customers on their site, developers can drive additional engagement and usage of their experiences by connecting to the over 320 million Messenger customers worldwide.
  • Designing for easy integration in your technical environment: We are delivering an API service that will expose a RESTful interface, and we’ll wrap those in a range of libraries (including JavaScript, .NET, and others). Websites and apps will be able to choose the right integration type for their specific scenario. Some websites prefer to keep everything at the presentation tier, and use JavaScript libraries when the user is present. Others may prefer to do server-side integration, so they can call the RESTful endpoints from back-end processes. We’re aiming to provide the same set of capabilities across the API service and the libraries that we offer.

All this of course is brought together in the new Windows Live Messenger with the intention of providing users with a single dashboard from where they can manager their social graph, participate in chats with their friends regardless of what services they are on, and to be able to read and send their status updates to whichever service they wanted to.

While there is still time before this all comes together in June with the release of Wave 4 of Windows Live, and Messenger, if what is indicated in this announcements is any indications Microsoft could have an interesting effect on the whole Social Media services landscape. Which given Facebook’s recent moves and Google’s stumbling could be a good thing.