Memory Lane: Microsoft had ‘Spaces’ too

Kip Kniskern

This week, at Google I/O, the search giant revealed a number of new projects they’re working on, including Google Assistant to refine search and compete with the likes of Siri and Cortana, Google Home, an Amazon Alexa competitor, and a new messaging app, Allo.

But just before the conference kicked off, Google announced another new offering, one it is calling Spaces. The group sharing tool attempts to make it easier to share stuff from around the web to a select group of friends, and allows them to interact with the Spaces you create.

Windows Live Spaces logo

Of course, if you’re a longtime Microsoft watcher, the name Spaces brought back a flood of memories, about a different way to create and share, from a different time.

Microsoft has a long history of being involved in online communities, and group sharing. Microsoft Communities, the first iteration of group sharing, began back about 1991, eventually morphing into MSN Groups sometime around 2000.

MSN Groups became a sort of a new age UseNet newsgroup, where users could post not only text but media files about a wide range of subjects, and interact with each other. Unfortunately, that ability led MSN Groups for a time to become “the largest porn site in the world”, according to what a program manager at the time told a group of us in an NDA session. The adult groups were shut down in 2005, transferred to a web site called World Groups.

MSN Groups would later come to its own demise, in 2008, with an option to migrate to another non-Microsoft site, Multiply. In the meantime, in early 2004, Microsoft launched MSN Spaces, a new site based on “modern” technologies. The two communities, MSN Spaces and MSN Groups, would co-exist for years, with MSN Spaces rebranded as Windows Live Spaces in January of 2006, but Spaces wasn’t a direct replacement for Groups, and was seen as a potential competitor to the very popular (at the time) MySpace.

Windows Live Spaces
Windows Live Spaces

While much of Spaces is lost to time, including the Spaces website itself and all of its content, a “Fact Sheet” remains, detailing the “rich expression” capabilities of the community site, including:

  • Rich layout. Customization of a Space is easily accessible to the creator of the Space and includes options for choosing more than 80 Themes, different modules and layouts to customize their MSN Spaces quickly.
  • Web logs. The MSN Spaces features an easy-to-use blogging module that enables the average consumer to easily create, publish and maintain online personal journals, or blogs, online as well as link to photos and other Web sites.
  • Photo albums. Consumers can upload up to 30 MB of photos (750 images after compression) to their Spaces sites and display them to others in slide shows and create online photo albums they can share with others.
  • E-mail uploads. In addition to being able to update their Space from any Web browser, customers can also send entries to their blog or upload photos they’ve taken with their text-enabled mobile phone to their Space from their mobile devices.
  • Music favorites and lists. Consumers can create and manage lists of information that is important to them, such as their favorite music, books or travel destinations. Consumers can easily share playlists through their Space with Microsoft® Windows Media® technologies. By clicking on a tab in the Music Lists, the Spaces visitor will be taken to the MSN Music service where they can find related information and in many cases will even directly purchase music.

For a time, Spaces gained at least some traction, hitting some 27 million unique visitors per month in 2007, according to Wikipedia, but that dropped quickly, and by 2011, with diminishing numbers, a creaky infrastructure that was hard to manage, and the rise of a new generation of sharing sites like Twitter, Spaces had lost favor at Microsoft, and was shut down. Spaces users were encouraged to migrate to, and at least a half a million of the some 7 million Spaces users did, according to the last figures we had over at LiveSide.

Like many of Microsoft’s consumer facing initiatives, it’s attempts to recreate personal spaces and personal blogging were overshadowed by others, like Blogger, WordPress, and even Twitter, who all did it better. Since then, Microsoft has shied away from consumer services, focusing instead on initiatives like Office 365, which make the company much more money than Windows Live ever did.