Microsoft stepped further into Weblog publishing late Wednesday by making its MSN Spaces service generally available.
The companys MSN division also released MSN Messenger 7.0, an update to its instant-messaging service that provides ties into MSN Spaces.
MSNs blogging effort has focused on reaching a mass audience, and on closely tying MSN Spaces with IM and the MSN Hotmail e-mail service. Since beta releases of MSN Spaces and Messenger 7.0 were launched four months ago, users have created 4.5 million blogs, MSN executives said.
With the launch, MSN is tripling the number of photos users can store on an MSN Spaces blog to 750 and introduced more than 50 background designs for the hosted blogs
"When we did Spaces, we did not just do blogging, but we provided a way for users to express themselves to people close to them," said Blake Irving, MSNs corporate vice president for the communication services and member platform group.
MSN is making use of a common contact database across Spaces, Messenger and Hotmail to let users share contacts across the services. For example, in Messenger 7.0, users see icons called "gleams" that inform them when a contact has updated his or her Spaces blog.
Irving said the gleams have helped attract people to Spaces and, he suspects, have led many users to actively update their blogs as they notice friends regularly refreshing their blogs. Users are updating about 170,000 blogs on MSN Spaces every day and uploading about 1.9 million photos a day, Irving said.
Along with integrating with MSN Spaces, the Messenger update includes a one-to-one videoconferencing feature. Called MSN Video Conversation, the feature lets users conduct synchronized audio and video sessions and provides full-screen viewing.
Earlier this year, MSN said it had extended a partnership with Logitech International SA for the video feature.
MSN also has expanded its Web search options in Messenger 7.0. With a feature called Shared Search, users can retrieve MSN Search results directly within an IM session by entering keywords and clicking on an integrated search button.
MSNs launch of its hosted blog service comes as its competitors begin moving into the space. Yahoo Inc. last week began an invite-only beta test of Yahoo 360, a service that combines blogs with social-networking techniques.
MSN also appears ready to introduce social-networking features in its services. Irving said MSN expects to provide degrees-of-separation information to users over the next year, but only once it figures out how to provide adequate controls, so users can decide which contacts to provide to whom.
"We have today a giant friends-of-a-friend network, but what we havent done is expose it in a way that people have access to it," Irving said. "The reason we havent done that today is because the amount of granular control users want is huge."
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