Windows Live Groups: Liveside.net post

December 29

Windows Live Groups: Cool tools for staying connected

Bulletin boards, forums, instant messaging—since its earliest days, the Internet experience has been centered around helping groups of people communicate, collaborate, and share online. Windows Live continues to extend and improve upon this experience with new, integrated features that help you keep your life in sync, while staying in touch with the people you care about.

With the new Windows Live Groups, we’ve released a set of simple tools to help you communicate and share with the “real world” groups that so many of us belong to: sports teams, school committees, neighborhood associations, scout troops, etc. 

To be fair, this first release of Groups isn’t trying to be a comprehensive replacement either for large public community forums, or for “badge”-like affiliation groups where millions of people can express their connection to a celebrity or a cause. Those are great and valuable services—they’re just not what we’re aiming at in this first release.

So let’s take a look at what we can do with Windows Live Groups:

Creating a group

Getting started is easy. From Windows Live Messenger, just click the Add menu (the little Messenger icon with the + sign at the top of your contact list), and then click Create a group:

The Create a group command

…or from the Windows Live website, click More at the top of any page, and then click Groups:

The More menu

Then, pick a name and a web address (we also use this for the e-mail distribution list address), choose a theme if you’d like, and you’re ready to go.

Creating a new group

A typical group's page

Group conversations in Messenger

A unique feature of Windows Live Groups is that the groups you create will automatically show up in Messenger. For smaller groups (up to 20 people), you can even have group conversations with whomever happens to be online. This is great for shooting a quick question, such as asking the other moms in your meet-up group who’s up for a quick park outing during an unexpected sun break here in Seattle. It’s also good for teasing your teammates about last night’s game.

My friend Steven recently created a group for his Saturday morning soccer club, for the parents of his daughter’s pre-kindergarten class, and for his poker buddies.

When Steven created his poker group,  he immediately saw it appear in his main window in Messenger (it also shows up on the web on his Groups page). He can expand the group, see who else has joined recently, and start conversations with those people.

Right-clicking a group in Messenger

When 2 or more people from a group come online, he can double-click on the group and bring up the conversation window with everyone who is online.  He can send winks, emoticons and even nudge the group Messenger window just like in a regular IM conversation.

Chatting with a group

Of course, as the owner of a group, you can turn off the Messenger conversation feature, if that’s what your members prefer, or if the group grows to more than 20 people – just click Options on your group’s web site, and then click Edit Settings.

Scheduling events in your shared group calendar

Groups also include a shared calendar, which is automatically linked to your personal calendar on Windows Live.

Just click Calendar from the navigation links on the left of your group’s website, and you’ll be able to see the calendar for that group:

A group's calendar

Or, to see how your calendar looks and find out if you have time to make it to all of the events that your groups are scheduling, just click More at the top of any Windows Live webpage, and then click Calendar.  You can easily hide or show individual calendars, etc.

All your calendars in one place

Sharing photos, files, and discussions

It’s also easy to share photos or files with the members of your group, and to post ongoing discussions.

Just like with your personal profile on Windows Live, you can just choose Photos or SkyDrive from the navigation links on the left of your group, and post pictures, team rosters, to-do lists, and even shared web links. When you post things, the info shows up in the “What’s new” list on the group’s main webpage, and will show up on the Windows Live Home page for all of the members of the group.

We’re just getting started with Groups.  We hope you enjoy this first round of features and find them to be useful online tools for your real-world groups.

– Jeff and Steven

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