Over the past few years that I’ve been on the Windows Live team, we’ve made a significant shift in the way that we think about where we want to focus Windows Live. Our priority is on giving consumers the best experience possible, which means that we are focused on both building great experiences and partnering well with other companies that create great software and services that consumers love to use. Implicitly, this also means that we don’t need to compete to be the best or the biggest in every area where consumers spend time online.

Starting from our priority on delivering great customer experiences, there are three key areas we’re focused on:

  1. Building experiences where we have a unique, compelling value proposition
  2. Partnering broadly by helping drive creation and adoption of industry standards
  3. Deeply integrating with the largest leading consumer services
Experiences that we build

Our first focus area is about the things that we will build ourselves. This could be because there are unmet customer needs, a gap in innovation, or a unique opportunity for us to surprise and delight customers. Some examples are:

  • How we’ve created the ability to make Messenger conversations more meaningful by sharing photos while having a HD video chat
  • The way that Photo Gallery and Movie Maker let you easily create professional-quality photos and videos with features like Photo Fuse, Panorama, and Auto Movie
  • How Windows Live Mesh lets you easily access to your files by providing virtually unlimited file synchronization between your PCs
Partnering broadly with the web

At the same time, there are a lot of other companies providing compelling scenarios all across the web, and so our second focus area is our belief in letting consumers connect their experiences across the web to what they are doing in Windows Live, and vice versa. This starts by working with the industry to create and drive the adoption of emerging specifications and standards, including OAuth WRAP, Portable Contacts, Activity Strea.ms, and more. Then, we make sure that we’re using those standards to work with partners to deliver great experiences that let consumers bring their contacts, conversations and content from other partners into Windows Live and similarly take their Windows Live contacts, conversations and content with them across the web. Lastly, because these technical integrations are built using standards with simple, self-service terms of use, they are a very low-cost way for our partners and for Windows Live to make this happen.

Deeply integrating with leading services

Our third focus area is the set of very large and leading companies that excel in specific offerings. For instance, Facebook and MySpace are leaders in general social networking, LinkedIn leads in professional social networking, and YouTube is a huge destination for online video. Given how important these services are for many consumers, we’ll work with these companies directly to go significantly beyond the standards mentioned above to ensure we’re jointly providing customers with the best experience.

This model for focusing on great customer experiences —balancing what we build, where we partner broadly and where we deeply integrate— is important across Windows Live. Today, I want to talk about one area where it’s particularly important, and that is our Messenger experience and our approach to “social.”

Evolution of “Social”

“Social” is a somewhat broad term that encompasses a range of scenarios: social networks, instant messaging apps, SMS, sharing content, commenting, and a lot more. Looking back, social started in chat rooms and as a set of instant messaging apps on your PC that you used for real-time chatting. Over time, chat became richer and started to include things like voice and video conversations and real-time gaming. We saw the addition and huge growth of more lightweight conversations as SMS became more accessible and new services emerged to more easily broadcast status messages privately and publicly. At the same time, sharing has exploded; people are sharing more content and activities such as news articles, comments on products, videos, and locations.

As social evolved, we saw the emergence of a number of relationships and services. Messenger focuses on your close friends and family, while Facebook, MySpace, Orkut and QQ have become more general-purpose social networks for all of your acquaintances. LinkedIn, Xing, and Viadeo are great places for professional interactions, and a lot of social updates still flow through email messages and notifications. Then, there are great photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube, and hundreds of others that provide content and let customers post, comment, rate and re-share. Amongst all of these, we agree that it’s often your mobile contact list that is the best representation of your “real friends.” So while this evolution of social has led to the growth of some great leading services, it has also created a lot of noise where people often miss the updates that matter, because they’re being flooded with the updates they don’t care about.

Messenger as your “People App”

In light of this, we’re not trying to be yet another general-purpose social network, real-time public broadcast channel, or video sharing site. There are great services out there for these things already. Instead, we’re looking at how Messenger can play a unique and compelling role in helping people bridge various networks and overcome the social noise to have more meaningful connections with the people that matter most. To the above comments, we believe delivering a great experience breaks into what we will build, how we partner broadly and where we look to deeply integrate.

We believe given our past experience and a gap in the marketplace, that we have an opportunity to focus on continuing to make real-time conversations even richer and more meaningful. So, we’re bringing video chat into high-definition and providing multi-dimensional interactions where photo sharing and other activities can happen in tandem with a video chat. We’re breaking down walls between services by connecting Messenger chat not only with Yahoo! Messenger and Office Communicator, but we’re also connecting with Facebook chat and the upcoming Xbox Kinect.

However, those “people that matter most” also spend time all across the internet, and it’s important that customers can also bring those activities into Messenger and bring Messenger into those activities. We do this with Messenger Connect, which provides partners with a simple way to bring Messenger contacts, communications and content into their website to increase engagement there, or share contacts, communications and content into Messenger to drive greater reach and referral.

Lastly, when we look at the leading places where consumers spend time socializing, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, as well as email, rise to the top. So in our latest beta release of Messenger, we’ve made sure to go beyond the standard Messenger Connect to deeply integrate with Facebook and MySpace. Not only can you bring in your friends and their updates, but you can also bring in high-resolution images, comment, and post back directly to those sites, get instant notifications for certain social alerts, chat directly with your Facebook friends from within Messenger, and more. We’ve also brought in social updates from Hotmail, so they’re just as easily accessible as the rest of the updates from more traditional social networks. For these top social experiences, we want to make sure consumers get the best experience from those great services, and we’ll continue to deeply integrate more of the leading services people use over time. Here’s a picture of viewing Facebook photos within Messenger and seeing and posting additional comments inline.

Progress on our social approach using the new Messenger beta

It’s important with anything we do that we continue to look at whether people find these changes compelling and to gather feedback as we progress down this path. Specifically, do experiences like the one below help drive meaningful conversations across Windows Live and partner services?

There are many different data points we could look at, but one that we’re keeping a close eye on is how consumers are using Messenger, connecting it with other great services, and regularly engaging with that data. For instance, how many people are connecting Messenger to other sites including their Facebook social network and interacting with that content?

The Messenger app for your PC is still in beta, and we’ve only released this beta in a small number of languages around the world. That said, since we’ve released the beta, the number of people connecting from Messenger to partner services has tripled and the amount of content they’re sharing has quadrupled. And for Facebook specifically, Windows Live Messenger has climbed to #4 worldwide in total daily active users who are connecting to Facebook . We’re excited to see this, although we know that there is a lot more we can do to drive even greater customer value here – with Facebook and with other great partners across the web.

More to come from Windows Live and our partners

In future posts, we’ll talk more about how Messenger continues to make progress in our approach to social and partnering with other networks. We’ll also talk about how other Windows Live services are using this focus to deliver great customer experiences and partnering with other great services to do so.

Dharmesh Mehta
Director, Windows Live Product Management