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Thursday, December 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
MSN Spaces, Microsoft's new, free service, courts bloggers
By Kim Peterson
Microsoft's MSN division launched a test Web log service yesterday that lets users stake out their own territory online. Called MSN Spaces, the free service gives users a Web page where they can post photos in a slide show format and publish musings.
The service is in beta release at spaces.msn.com, and is available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide.
At the same time, Microsoft released a new version of MSN Messenger, its instant-messaging service, that works closely with Spaces and features customized backgrounds and pop-up animations called Winks.
That version, also in beta release, allows users to send messages using the Web from computers that don't have the MSN Messenger software installed. It was scheduled to be available online yesterday but was not working at press time, at messenger.msn.com/beta.
"If we're going to have a complete communications experience, it's very important to us to do blogging as part of that," said Blake Irving, a corporate vice president in MSN's communication services group.
MSN had to enter the market, said Scott Young, chief executive of UserLand Software, a Silicon Valley company that sells blogging services to consumers and businesses.
"Their major competitors in the space are already doing it and quite frankly probably have a lead, at least in terms of the consumer side of the business," he said. "MSN doesn't have much of a choice."
There are a number of blogging programs in the market, including UserLand's Radio blog tools; Google's Blogger; an open-source software project called LiveJournal; and TypePad, a subscription-based offering from San Mateo, Calif.-based Six Apart. One of MSN's main rivals, Yahoo!, hasn't joined the field.
"While we continuously evaluate opportunities to introduce new services based on what consumers want and need, we have no announcements to make at this time with regard to Yahoo! offering blogging tools," said Yahoo! spokeswoman Mary Osako.
Technorati, an online search engine that tracks the "blogosphere," as it is called, monitors 4.8 million sites, and every day new ones are created while others are abandoned.
Technorati's 100 most popular blogs include political Web sites Instapundit.com and Daily Kos, technology site Boing Boing and Seattle-based online comic site Penny Arcade.
Blogs have critics and fans alike. Incoming "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams recently said bloggers who write about news are "on an equal footing with someone in a bathroom with a modem," according to a report by Marketwatch.
But bloggers are often credited for doggedly pursuing, and in some cases furthering, such news stories as CBS' coverage of President Bush's National Guard service. And many don't cover news at all, preferring subjects such as video games, law school, Christianity and cacti.
Blogs are contributing to an ever-evolving "Web of human intelligence" and turning the Internet into an active two-way discussion instead of a more passive medium, Young said.
Irving said that MSN users have started to blog, and so it made sense to offer a blogging service and integrate it closely with its other offerings. When users update their blog, for example, a small picture of a star shows up near their names on MSN Messenger to alert others.
MSN has also integrated Hotmail and Messenger more tightly, so that when a Messenger user creates a Hotmail account, his or her contacts automatically appear in Hotmail's address list.
It took three years to revamp the way MSN stored people's contacts in order to allow for this integration without interrupting service, a process Irving likened to painting an airplane that was transporting passengers at 300 miles per hour.
"It's a lot of work," he said.
MSN Spaces is compatible with RSS technology, so that postings can be directly published to online newsreaders. Using newsreaders, people can immediately see what is posted without having to visit the specific Web site the content is coming from. Bloggers also can update their site remotely using e-mail or a mobile phone.
MSN Spaces easily ties in with things people do online every day, such as e-mail and chatting, said Charlene Li, an analyst who covers MSN at Forrester Research. The service is also accessible to people who might be intimidated by blogging.
"It takes away this onus of what I call publishing and makes it much more about communication," she said. "It's about sharing. It's about information."
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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