|25 Mar 2010||#1|
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As we look at usage patterns for people who use Windows Live Photos, Messenger, and other online services, we've seen the emergence of a broad pattern that has been shaping our thinking as we work on new versions of our products. What we see is an explosion of sharing – and of its natural consequence, users struggling to keep up with all the content being shared. This new emphasis on sharing seems as fundamental to us now as the original advent of the Internet and the first communication tools – email, IM, blogs. Call it Sharing 2.0.
As engineers of Windows Live, it is our job is to make Windows a valuable tool that helps people connect to the data and services they care about. We see some great opportunities to create new technologies that can help users manage the chaos, both incoming and outgoing.
This post is about the trend as we see it. We’ll be following this up with some of our ideas about where this is heading, and what role we hope Windows Live can play.
Our data is everywhere
People store their stuff across the web, their PCs and their mobile phones, leading to fragmented access and fragmented sharing. Take the example of photo-sharing. A study we ran in September 2009 showed that people stored their photos across up to 15 different types of technologies. Here are the major ones:
It would be nice, not only to have everything in one location, but also to be able to access all this stuff and share from wherever you may be, especially from mobile phones and PCs that you may not own.
We're putting it all out there
It seems like our appetite for using technology to connect with each other is bottomless, whether it be directed communications with the people we love (email, IM), sharing with groups of friends (email, social networking), or full-on public broadcasting (blogs, micro-blogs, photo & video dedicated sites, etc.)
Whenever a new medium emerges, it doesn’t replace the previous ones – it adds to it. That is, people today are sending email and IM and updating their status on social networks and uploading photos everywhere. They're sharing their thoughts and their memories to stay in touch with each other. Sharing and consuming shared data has become the primary internet activity for many of our customers, right up there with shopping and reading news.
Maybe surprisingly, this trend cuts across all demographics – it is not a teen or a US phenomenon – it is largely true for people of all ages in all countries. For example, did you know that 44% of people who use Facebook are over 35? (ComScore Media Metrix, December 2009, Worldwide).
A further multiplier effect is that even within a given medium, there are multiple providers available – and most people sign up for more than one of them. Windows Live Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail, or Gmail? Why not all three? Messenger, or AIM, or Skype? Facebook, or Twitter, or MySpace, or Blogger? SkyDrive, or Flickr, or PhotoBucket? YouTube, or Flickr, or Vimeo?
Increasingly, people are replacing "or" with “and” in reply to these questions, and using several competing services together. Just as an example, the average photo user uploads 22 photos at a time, and uploads them to 2.4 different sites (Microsoft study, August 2009).
Communication tools overlap massively
But categorizing services as being about photo-sharing or social networking or email alone is a bit misleading. Of the 11% of US users who upload at least one video a month, 46% are using Facebook and 35% MySpace, with YouTube coming in 3rd at 16% (Microsoft study, August 2009). So maybe Facebook and MySpace should be counted as video sharing sites? Messenger users exchange over a billion status updates per month. Isn’t that really a form of micro-blogging or social-networking?
As Internet services have grown and matured, they have naturally branched out from their original focus and started overlapping. Flickr started as a photo sharing site but then added video. Facebook started as a pure social network, but added photos.
We see users cherry-picking among services and creating custom solutions that exploit the best features of each. I myself use SkyDrive for family photos, occasionally play around with Flickr, keep in touch with my closest friends using Hotmail and Messenger, and use Facebook for the rest. Occasionally I use Twitter for more public-facing updates. But come to think of it, I have a blog on Blogger and another one on Spaces. And this is now quite normal, even for non tech-enthusiasts.
The darker side of this sharing explosion is how hard it has become to keep up with everything.
I know which services I use. But keeping up with my friends’ services is increasingly difficult. Maybe I forgot to check Twitter this morning. Maybe one of my friends posted a review on Yelp, but that’s not a service I use. Maybe there’s a very important email message waiting for me on Hotmail, or maybe it went to my Yahoo account. Or was it in Facebook? We call it “social overload.”
As the social networking train gathers momentum, some riders are getting off. Their reasons run the gamut from being besieged by online "friends" who aren't really friends to lingering concerns over where their messages and photos might materialize. If there's a common theme to their exodus, it's the nagging sense that a time-sucking habit was taking the "real" out of life. (Marco R. Della Cava in “Some ditch social networks to reclaim time, privacy,”  USA Today)
Simplifying the social sharing clutter
Microsoft provides services in almost every communication category. And we want all of these services to be best in class for quality, speed, and security. We hope you'll choose us where it makes sense. But it would be unrealistic to assume that we will meet all your communication needs, and be better than every competitor in every category. And even if we did, you would still have hundreds of friends on other services.
This fundamental insight is shaping our approach to designing and building Windows Live.
This is why we've built in the ability to aggregate your GMail, Yahoo! Mail, and other accounts into Hotmail and access them all in one place. And this is why we let you add Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, and dozens of other services to your "what's new" feed in Messenger. It is also a driving force for many of the features we’ll be unveiling soon across all our websites and client software.
As engineers, we see great potential in building technology that can simplify all the social sharing clutter. We want to help Windows users bring everything together, but in a focused way – bringing you closer to your most important people.
- Piero Sierra
Group Program Manager
Windows Live Messenger and Mail
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