Organizing an event? Microsoft is hoping that customers will use its latest free online service, Windows Live Events.This new social events planning service was unveiled Oct. 11 and will be rolled out over the next few days.
Windows Live Events is designed to make it easy for users to create personalized event Web sites using a range of customized templates, to which they can add photographs, videos and stories via blog posts after the party is over.
“We have really focused on letting customers relive the event through memories,” Windows Live Product Manager Jay Fluegel, in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK on Oct. 11. This new service has not been beta tested outside of Microsoft, as it is built on the same infrastructure as Windows Live Spaces, which has been around for three years, he said.
And as the service is free, there will be “unobtrusive” super-banner ads at the top of the page, but nothing interstitial or any other advertising than that is planned at this point, Fluegel said.
“Our principle at this point is that anything below the common Windows Live header belongs to the creator, and we have tried really hard to monetize the service above that header and not creep into the content,” he said.
The service was designed by the Spaces team, and is based on extensive customer feedback and feature requests over the years for more ways for users to connect and share with friends and family, Fluegel said.
“One thing that kept surfacing was the ability to plan get-togethers, much of which is done through e-mail and other means today. While our personal Spaces give users the opportunity to share what is going on in their lives, they also attend events with groups of people and wanted the ability for the group to be able to collectively relive the event, so that was a really big focus for us,” he said.
Microsoft’s Hotmail research showed that a large proportion of mail between members was about planning a particular event, which further reinforced the direct feedback it was getting from Spaces users about wanting more ways to connect with the people they care about, Fluegel said.
Windows Live Events enables customers to create Web sites based on more than 100 templates for different kinds of parties and events. Users can invite anyone with a valid e-mail address to attend, and the event can be added to any competing calendaring services, “as we want this service to be useful to everyone and we are cognizant that people use other services and applications,” he said.
“Events integrates really well with the existing suite of Windows Live services, so we know who your contacts are if you have used Hotmail or Messenger or Spaces in the past, because it is one unified contact list for Windows Live. You can invite all of your friends on Spaces, or your co-worker group on Messenger, as well as anyone with an e-mail address, even those without a Windows Live identity,” Fluegel said.
Those invited to the event do not need a Windows Live identity unless they want to upload content, such as photographs of the event, or to participate in a discussion board thread or comment on a blog post.
This new Events service sounds similar to some existing solutions like Evite. When asked about this, Fluegel said the differentiator was that Microsoft had focused its development time on the sharing that took place after the event.
Users will also be able to create a Web site for an event that has already taken place, thereby creating a memory archive that all attendees can come back to and that can only be deleted by the event organizer.
“So, it’s the same photos experience you get in Spaces, with full-screen slide shows and printing options. We also allow all guests to be able to upload photographs as well as video sharing from any of the popular sites, including MSN Soap Box, YouTube and Yahoo Video,” Fluegel said.
While the Events service will have monthly upload limits, as is the case with Spaces, this can be reset the next month. That will ensure that the service keeps running efficiently, he said.
“While there are technical limits in place that ensure [that] we can scale the services, I do not expect most users to ever hit that limit. While we will also support large events, that is not the focus of this service,” he said.
The event organizer will also be able to delete photographs and comments left on blogs, exactly the way users can do on Spaces today. This means that while the Web site remains under the control of the organizer, more people can participate and add primary content like photos, Fluegel said.
Along with the release of the new Events service, Microsoft is updating its Spaces log-in page to allow users to catch up on the online activities of their friends and family, such as adding new blog entries or updating their photographs, and allowing users to immediately access that new content from the log-in page.
The update has also given users more granular control over the permissions for each photo album uploaded, allowing users to share albums with only the people they want to.
Microsoft has also doubled the free storage limit for its SkyDrive service, which is still at the beta stage, from 500MB to 1GB, and added a new feature that exposes RSS feeds for any public folders and files that are shared, Fluegel said.