Despite my earlier reluctance about MSN’s Web2.0 offerings, I decided to try out their new Live Local after reading so many good things about it (particularly on Farhan Thawar’s blog).
My goal was to place all of my Restaurants into a list that can be displayed on a map. I was actually pleasantly surprised with how easy it was and with the final outcome – great job FT! Although I question the commercial viability of these services – this is very similar to what we were doing at Lokah years ago with some distinct differences which I’ll discuss throughout here – it’s fun ‘bling’ for non-critical services. btw – here’s my restaurant collection
It was fairly simple to set up the list – simply open up a new collection, title it, and start adding listings. You add listings by typing in the restaurant name and the city. As long as the restaurant name is in the system, the map will update with a pushpin on the location. You can check out Tutorial: How to Create a Collection for a more detailed run through.
So some errors I did come across along the way were fairly minor –
1. When filling in info for an associated blog, it required me to specifically put ‘http://” for it to work – I’m sure this is an oversite since even IE assumes the default is http – if an alternate protocol is needed, then that is explicitly labelled.
2. There was a link to find out how to ‘Save collection as a favourite but it didn’t actually take me to that in the help nor was I able to find it by searching around so I’m still not sure how to do it…
3. The most critical error though was when left for awhile, the service still allowed me to search, add, and modify listings to my collections, but after signing out and then signing back in, nothing had been saved. i tested this a few times, and it seems that when a session times out, it doesn’t notify you so you’ll end up losing everything- watch out for it!
Now for where I’d like to see live.local go.
Well Web2.0 is a misnomer (to say the least) – but one of the principles which I believe is well accepted is the ability to build new applications through microchunking from other services. I like the Live Local service but I want to be able to embed it within my existing web pages or applications – i haven’t really looked into it too much yet, but I can’t clearly see how to do this with Live Local. I need to be able to do more than just providing a link to my collection – mind you, take a look at Pass the POI for a great service built on passing links around (POI=points of interest). In addition if it used XML (more below), I be able to link up my content sources – the blurb that pops up on Live.Local should be linked to my blog or vice versa – giving me more control of where the content comes from.
Open vs Closed
I’d also like to see it opened up. The primary difficulty I have with Live.Local is that it is primarily a closed service. Everything is proprietary. I can’t link to an external source for the list of restaurants – it should use web services to link to an XML file or to allow upload and exporting lists – for example, I want to add different fields and parameters such as rankings, or phone number to my list which I could define in an XML file which I could centrally control. Right now, I have my list of restaurants on my blog, and now I have it on Live Local – if I want to modify the list, I have to do it in two places. Programming101 no-no… MSN is in a great position to adopt or define an XML specification that applications could utilize to seemlessly integrate Live.Local
Further to the above, the Live.Local seems to rely on users populating their database with their details and to do so correctly. Take for example, the location of the restaurants Joe Mama’s and Gio Rana’s on my list. They appear in the wrong spot. Not exactly sure how this is done, but I’m assuming it relied on the business operator (or someone else?) to tag the correct spot on the map (*note – the locations of the pushpins are wrong on my map. I searched and added the pushpins a few weeks ago – when i search for them now, they appear to be the right spots but still not sure how it is being validated). Again, there are already business such as Yellow Pages (who MSN is using) or Citypages or even specific ones like Zagat which are collecting this info. I like MSN for the application, but I’d like the ability to pick and choose who my underlying provider is – this only gets to be more of an issue when other services such as transactions, payments, or even traffic directions are incorporated.
The idea behind allowing developers to pick and choose underlying services allows providers to provide applications at lower costs – for example, when I was at T-Mobile, we rejected many applications since they required us to use a particular service for support. We may have liked the application, but wanted to use a different underlying service – whether it be for payment, authentication, or for actual content – since we would have pre-existing business relationships in place. If the application didn’t have the flexibility, we’d pass on it. In fact, we collaborated extensively with Microsoft to modify their applications to use the underlying providers of our choice. This was also the primary crux of what we worked on at at Lokah – we enabled developers to pick and choose which services to use. As long as the corresponding revenue share agreements are hammered out, developers should be free to mix and match services to meet users demands. I’d like to see MSN to open up more in this area
So Live Local gets the two thumbs up for ease of use and for the overall product – I’m a big fan of the collections feature (and Pass the POI). In terms of flexibility though, there is room for improvement (in my limited view), but I haven’t really seen many other services out there that are doing better with the ease of Live Local. So for now, I’m going to be putting up my restaurants using Live Local – and will be watching as it gets even better.