As Doug mentioned in his blog post last week, Messenger is even more social now. The new feed in Messenger makes it easier than ever to stay up to date with the best of what your friends are doing across the web, whether itís posting photos on Flickr, or updating their Facebook and MySpace profiles. Earlier this week, Mona blogged about how Messenger Companion makes it possible to have a conversation in Internet Explorer. Today, Iím excited to talk about how weíve designed the new Messenger to allow you to share photos, videos, and content in real time, right within in your conversation window.

Sharing photos and online albums in a conversation

The previous version of Messenger let you share local images from your hard drive during an IM conversation. But we understand that you want to share everything with your friends, such as your photo albums on the web, your favorite online videos, and links to interesting sites and content. With the new Messenger, we really looked at how we can make this type of sharing possible when youíre in an IM conversation or a video call.

Most people store photos on SkyDrive, Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug or some combination of them. I use Facebook and SkyDrive. So when I start a conversation with a friend, I get a number of new options beyond just sharing a file or photo from my computer.



New options for sharing your content

When I added Facebook to my Windows Live account, I also added access to my Facebook photo albums, so in addition to my pictures on SkyDrive, I can also share pictures that Iíve posted to Facebook.





Browse your online photos on SkyDrive and Facebook

And whatís great is that the new Messenger provides a higher quality experience for shared content that stands apart in the conversation window. You can see an example below that shows how this works. When I share a photo album with my friend John, Messenger zooms the picture by 5% to fill the entire conversation window. This edge-to-edge look puts the emphasis on my picture, and really makes it shine.



Messenger with edge-to-edge photo displayed

You can even download an entire photo album and share it all at once. Messenger takes care of downloading it, resizing it, and sharing it behind the scenes to quickly add the photos to your conversation. And your friend can always access the original photos, in case they want to save the high resolution images.

When you or your friend hovers over an image in the conversation window, youíll see a thumbnail strip of all of the images and videos that have been added during the conversation. As in the previous version of Messenger, both you and your friend have control and can switch the view for the other person simply by selecting a photo from the thumbnail strip. Based on our customer research, synchronous photo-viewing is important to maintaining context during an IM conversation. In order to enhance that experience, weíve added the ability for photo captions to download with the image. And just for fun, we also decorate the sharing experience with a glowing color background that matches the dominant color in the photo.

These improvement are pretty exciting when you compare how images are displayed in the previous version of Messenger with the new Messenger beta.

We went from this:











To this!

 



Web video sharing

People share a lot of links to video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo in IM conversations. So itís pretty useful that in the new Messenger, you can now share videos without leaving the IM conversation. Simply by pasting in a link to a web video, Messenger will recognize it and present the video for inline playback. By clicking View together, both parties are able to watch the video at their own download speed and at their convenience. The video sharing sites that we currently parse links for include many of the popular sites like YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Break.com, and Wat.tv.



Contextual links

One of the features that resonated extremely well with people is the contextual linking that weíve added into IM conversations. The way this works is that Messenger has a lexicon of words that it recognizes in many of the markets and languages where Messenger is available. When a term is recognized, it is given a green dashed underline. By clicking the underlined word, we pass the word to Bing which finds links to websites, photos, and videos that you can add to your conversation on the fly.



Messenger recognizes famous people, places, and brands



Bing helps you find relevant photos and videos



Sharing photos and videos directly in Messenger

Some of the words that Messenger and Bing recognize include:


  • Brands (such as Coca Cola, Toyota, Apple, Microsoft)
  • Bands and Singers (such as The Beatles, Dave Matthews, Placido Domingo)
  • Places (such as San Francisco, Bulgaria, Barbados)
  • Famous Movies (such as Gone with the Wind, Star Wars)
  • Famous people (such as celebrities, scientists, authors)
There are two ways you might use this feature. One is simply as a way to add more visual content to your IM conversations. The other way is more of a research feature. By having Bing available to you during your conversations, you can add any content that is indexed and searchable by Bing, making your conversation even richer.

Letís say youíre having an IM conversation and want to share a video on French cooking with your friend. On the IM toolbar, click Share and then select Video from Bing. Enter your search term in the Bing search box and click the magnifying glass. Bing will return the same results you would get by going to the website.



See what the Bing Community Search Blog is saying about it. 





Making video calls in Messenger

Of course, the ultimate representation of an actual conversation is to see and hear the person on the other end. People who use Messenger are addicted to voice and videoóthey use this feature 230 million times a month, for everything from socializing to staying in touch with relatives and friends abroad. Over the years, weíve seen a switch away from a simple voice channel towards full-blown video IM. Today, 81% of the voice calls initiated in Messenger also include video.

In the new Messenger, we overhauled our video chat experience to make it more intuitive, prettier, and to improve the overall quality of the audio and video.



Improving video call quality

In voice and video we care about providing a high quality, high performing experience for customers. To that end, we pay close attention to things we can measure like call connection time, image quality, frame rate, and call completion and have made dramatic improvements to each of these.

Before the beta, we knew that a small percentage of calls were failing, but we didnít have deep enough data to tell us why or on what combination of equipment. Video calling involves a lot of variables including CPU, web camera equipment, drivers, and fluctuating network conditions. We decided we wanted to more deeply understand the reason for certain call quality issues, quickly isolate where the problems are, and escalate bug fixes from the appropriate team responsible. So we added a ton of new telemetry to Messenger beta and have been monitoring the incoming data carefully.

We learned from the beta that we could improve video rendering performance if we moved RGB conversion to the video graphics card and save on CPU cycles. By moving the video call to run on the graphics cards available on most machines these days, we were able to see drop CPU usage by 30-50%. And by testing on various hardware and software combinations we were able to refine our implementation.

In addition to adding telemetry, and doing work to improve performance on lower range PCs, we added in-call guidance that addresses some of the common issues you run into while starting or participating in a video call. For example, if low call quality is suspected or audio problems are occurring, small alerts will pop up in the lower right of the window advising you what action to take to address the issues.

Improving the video call experience

The interface for video has been completely revamped in the Messenger. You might recall in earlier versions of Messenger, video calls were displayed inside the user tiles within the conversation window. This felt crammed and unnatural, so we focused on making sure that when youíre in a video call, the video itself is the star of the show.



Improving the video call experience

The interface for video has been completely revamped in Messenger beta. You might recall in earlier versions of Messenger, video calls were displayed inside large chromes within the conversation window like this:



As you can see, video is now edge-to-edge so that you can see more of your friend, with no distractions. But of course you can still access all the rich sharing options and quickly add photos, web videos, and links to your video call:



Other improvements worth mentioning include better animations and transitions in and out of a video call, being smarter about detecting what webcam you have installed, and making sure that when you are ready to have a call, all of the required software and drivers are up and running.

Lastly, we know that our decision to remove the old webcam feature has been painful for some users, and we really do hate to remove features that we know you care about. But even though the old webcam feature has been removed, itís still absolutely possible to do one-way webcam calls, and weíre working on providing you with increased call control during video chat. The command has been simplified to just Start video call. But if you have a webcam and your friend does not, they will be able to see you and hear you, and youíll be able hear them if they have a microphone.  If you do not want to hear your friend, or do not want to share your audio, you can simply toggle the microphone icon next to your picture or the speaker icon next to your friendís picture.

I hope you get a chance to test out these new features in Messenger. We think they add a lot of fun and entertainment to the IM experience, and we look forward to hearing what you think.



Steven Abrahams
Lead PM, Windows Live Messenger

PS: And donít forget that as previously announced, youíll soon be able to have video chats with all your friends using Xbox Kinect Ė straight for your PC to their living room.

Technorati Tags: Messenger,Instant Message,Enthusiast,Enthusiasts,Windows Live,Windows Live Messenger,Instant Messenger,IM,Video Call,Facebook,Sharing,SkyDrive,YouTube,Bing,Xbox Kinect



More...