MSN began rolling out its Weblog service late on Wednesday in a move likely to rattle the still-emerging market for blog-creation tools.
With the new service, called MSN Spaces, Microsoft Corps Internet division is closely tying blogging into its MSN Messenger instant-messaging service and Hotmail e-mail service while targeting a mass audience.
MSN Spaces also expands beyond text-based blogging into what MSN is dubbing an "online scrapbook." Users can post digital photos, upload audio and video play lists from Windows Media, and create custom lists of favorites such as restaurant recommendations, said Phil Holden, director of MSN Global Business.
MSN Spaces will be available as a beta in 14 languages and 26 markets, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft announced. The launch follows a trial of the service that began in August in Japan.
"This is going to be very, very viral," Holden said. "The key design point was to make the integration tight."
Along with the blog service, MSN is releasing a beta version of MSN Messenger 7.0, which includes integration into MSN Spaces. With the beta client, MSN Messenger users can launch into creating a blog and receive notifications called "gleams" when contacts have updated their MSN Spaces.
Core to the integration with other MSN services is MSNs move in the past couple months to create a common contact list across Messenger, Hotmail and MSN Groups, Holden said.
That effort allowed MSN to introduce a feature called "contact cards." The cards act as a representation of a user in Messenger and Hotmail contact lists. Along with providing contact information, they include summaries of the most recent updates to a users blog on MSN Spaces.
MSN Spaces pits Microsoft against its main online rival, Google Inc., which owns one of the earliest blogging services called Blogger. Other top blog tools are Six Apart Ltd.s TypePad service and Movable Type software, and LiveJournal.coms LiveJournal service.
Read more about Googles upgrade of its Blogger service earlier this year.
Other online portals also have jumped into blogging services. America Online Inc. offers a service called AOL Journals, and Lycos Inc. earlier this year launched Blog Builder and a service called Circles for sharing photos and other items among contacts.
The tie-ins to MSN services dont end with IM and e-mail. When visitors click on play lists posted to MSN Spaces they are taken to the MSN Music site to sample clips or buy songs.
"We think that photos and music are two key scenarios blogging services needed to become mainstream," Holden said.
The service supports RSS 2.0 for syndicating all of the content, whether a blog post or an uploaded photo. Users can choose to make their blogs publicly available or restrict them to specific contacts.
Read more about the growth of RSS syndication technology.
When setting up an MSN Spaces blog, users can choose 15 design themes and select from 14 modules for posting content such as a space for journal-like blog entries and one for posting photos.
With the new Messenger beta, MSN is adding search features ahead of its planned switch to its own search-engine technology in 2005. The client includes a Web search query box and a feature where users can right click on a highlighted word and conduct a Web search.
For now, the searches are conducted through the MSN Search site that uses Yahoo Inc.s search-engine technology and not the recently launched MSN Search beta.
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