Microsoft bags blogs, eviscerates Live Spaces

Woody leonhard By Woody Leonhard

In a move that surprised many Windows watchers, Microsoft last week handed its online bloggers an eviction notice: they get six months to pick up and move — to WordPress.

Windows Live Spaces is now vacant, bequeathing Spaces users some tools to help them migrate to WordPress.

The change was couched in Microsoft’s usual marketing pablum. Softie Dharmesh Mehta, posting on the Windows Live blog, stated: “There are 30 million people who are actively using Windows Live Spaces and have been eagerly awaiting the next set of new blogging features.”

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The quote’s more than a little contrived. Windows Live Spaces has 30 million active users? Not a chance. MS could be saying that Live Spaces gets 30 million hits a month, but even that’s far-fetched. Independently reported statistics don’t shed much light. I do know that, according to a comScore article, Facebook had 179 million unique visitors in August and more than 500 million accounts — and Windows Live Spaces doesn’t amount to more than a pimple on Facebook’s posterior.

In a Betanews report, Joe Wilcox says he received a clarification from Microsoft that there are 7 million blogs on Live Spaces. (The 30 million figure cited by Mehta includes the blogs and their visitors.) But, he also states, an internal Microsoft e-mail exchange suggests that the vast majority of those blogs haven’t been updated in a long, long time. Even the Windows Live Team abandoned Windows Live Spaces months ago. (The final entry was made last May.) So Live Spaces seems truly dead and effectively has been for years.

With blogging gone, what remains of Spaces is the Windows Live glue that Microsoft’s using to bind together Messenger, Hotmail, and Outlook 2010 with details of your online behavior.

The rise and fall of MS blogging services

Few people know or remember that Windows Live Spaces — then known as MSN Spaces — started out as a blogging platform in Japan. That was in December 2004; Microsoft rolled it out to the rest of the world the following year.

By 2006, MSN Spaces rivaled MySpace (a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) as the largest blogging platform in the world. Spaces was absorbed into the Windows Live Borg in August 2006 — acquiring a new name, a new interface, and expanded capabilities to post pictures and arrange text.

And then came Facebook. Starting out as a social-networking platform for Harvard students, it went live worldwide in September 2006. At some point later, it seems Spaces lost its way. While Facebook enhanced its blogging acumen, Spaces added more connectedness to other Microsoft online apps.

Two years ago (around the time of Windows Live Wave 3), Windows Live Spaces started gluing pieces of the Windows Live empire together. Photo Gallery tied into Spaces to upload photos to blogs, Contact Cards for Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger came from Spaces, and Events and Groups also went through Spaces. Most importantly for Windows Live users, all the privacy settings for Hotmail and Messenger got rolled into Live Spaces. It wasn’t clear to me at the time — and still isn’t — why Microsoft chose its blogging service as the glue application.

Meanwhile, two big names emerged in the blogging world: Blogger (acquired by Google in 2003) and WordPress, an open-source Content Management System first released in 2003. Neither blogging fish nor social-networking fowl, Microsoft Live Spaces never kept pace with the explosive growth of Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, or even MySpace. Aside from some spam filtering, MS stopped improving Live Spaces more than a year ago; it’s been losing features ever since.

With Spaces now the living dead, Microsoft had to find an alternative blogging platform for its customers. Google being something of a non-starter, Microsoft built a partnership with WordPress. The fact that WordPress runs on Linux, MySQL and PHP — not Windows — must grate on many in Redmond.

Converting a Live Spaces blog to WordPress

If you’re one of the few remaining Windows Live Spaces bloggers, moving to WordPress is relatively painless; you need only sign on to your Windows Live Space account. Before you hit your blog’s landing page, you’re greeted with an offer to “Upgrade your blog to WordPress.com!” Never mind that Windows Live Spaces and WordPress have been competitors for years and that WordPress is and always has been free: Microsoft calls this migration an upgrade. Which, of course, it truly is. (A full disclosure: I’ve been using WordPress on my AskWoody blog for many years.)

If you already have a WordPress account, you can merge the Live Spaces blog entries into your existing WordPress blog. If you don’t have a WordPress account, setting one up takes just a few minutes. Start by reading the WordPress upgrade FAQ. Moving entries from Windows Live Spaces to WordPress is automatic: when you go to your old Live Spaces account and you see the upgrade notice, click Connect and either create a new WordPress account or give the requested info about your existing WP account. It might take a while for your posts to transfer, but it should all go smoothly.

What can go wrong? Any photos you have embedded in your blog postings will come across, but other pictures (such as linked images) will still be in Windows Live Photo. There’s a known problem with moving your Spaces Lists to WordPress, but a WordPress support page provides a simple solution. You’ll probably spend more time learning how to customize WordPress than you will with the transfer.

It’ll be interesting to see how many Spaces blogs actually move to WordPress. In a comment to a post in The Guardian, WordPress insider Paul Kim says that 50,000 Live Space blogs converted in the first 48 hours. “If there are only 300,000 actual active blogs (1% of 30 million), we’ll be able to determine that very soon.”

Where Microsoft is taking the Windows Live glue

In my July 22 Top Story, “Windows Live shares your Messenger contacts,” I talk about the way Hotmail and Messenger tattle about your Messenger connections, broadcasting the fact that you’ve had a Windows Live Messenger conversation with someone new, even if you tell Windows Live to keep your conversations private. The mechanism for connecting those dots remains, even with blogging now dead.

The Windows Live connectivity that was part of Spaces remains with WordPress; if you sign in to Windows Live Messenger and click the Add button next to Connected to, you can link to your WordPress site. Then, every post on your WordPress blog will appear as an update when one of your Messenger Friends fires up Messenger or goes to Hotmail.

In my April 22 Top Story, “Hotmail’s social networking busts your privacy,” I talk about Microsoft’s recommendation for throttling Hotmail’s tendency to spew your private information to people on your Messenger Friends list. The steps involved working through Windows Live Spaces. The process changed with the release of Windows Live Essentials 2011 last week, but the old Spaces privacy settings look a great deal like the new Windows Live privacy settings. The glue’s still there; it just isn’t tied to Spaces any more.

Microsoft may have written off blogging as a profitable enterprise, but it’s still keenly interested in social networking. We’re going to see more of our information shared between Microsoft’s leading online applications — Hotmail, Messenger, Outlook, and WordPress — in ways we may not like. But we won’t have Live Spaces to kick around anymore.

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Woody Leonhard‘s latest books — Windows 7 All-In-One For Dummies and Green Home Computing For Dummies — deliver the straight story in a way that won’t put you to sleep.
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Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.