When people have talked so far about Windows Live Groups, the premise has been that it will just be an upgrade to the existing MSN Groups, and something to compete with Facebook. User creates a group, group can then share files, create a blog, interact via online comments etc etc.
However this is somewhat short-sighted. Windows Live, is after all, about the interacting of service, and from what we’ve heard Groups is no exception. In order to fully appreciate where Microsoft is taking its social networking strategy, it helps to look at something that emerged a few years ago, the leaked MSN Wave 11 mockups. While most of what was shown has since been implemented, there is one critical piece that underpins the social networking scenario Microsoft envisioned – Circles.
Circles was an idea about how users could interact with a core group of friends, family, or other acquaintances. To share information with them, to stay in touch with their updates. In fact if Microsoft had launched Circles when it first emerged in public, Facebook et al could have been the ones playing catchup now. As it turned out, Microsoft never got around to launching Circles, until its reincarnation in Windows Live Wave 3, as part of Groups.
So what makes up Groups? Here’s how we see it shaping up:
Groups on Spaces: This is the area that has been talked about already, offering users a shared space on the Windows Live Group service. Key here is the “What’s New Feed” allowing all members of the group to see the updates and changes taking place.
Groups in Messenger: Here is perhaps where Groups will have the most immediate impact. Groups of Messenger contacts, able to keep in contact with one another through Group IM, and exposing access to features offered through other services; What’s New, new photos, shared files, the list goes on. (Wave 11 mockup)
Groups on Skydrive: The logical choice when it comes to sharing files with your friends. This was one of the main components of the Circles mockups, and given the launch of Mesh, it will be interesting to see how much gets implemented in Skydrive.
What makes Groups such an interesting proposition is the benefits offered by Windows Live ID; granular permissions and single sign-on: allowing users to seamlessly switch between identities. Then there are the obvious benefits of using Groups in services such as Calendar and Favorites. Perhaps the most interesting implementations could be via Groups APIs, integrating some of these features into Facebook and other social networks. With the Windows Live Developer platform really starting to take hold, Microsoft needs to use this to kick-start its late entrance to the social networking party.
Update: First sighting of Groups in Messenger has been made.