The Xbox Experience: A Great Improvement That Still Lacks

Microsoft is clearly getting hipper with their offerings. The company that has been notoriously committed to offline products, like their Windows operating System and productivity suite, Microsoft Office, to the detriment of their online offerings seems to definitely be moving into the internet space more. They are, in fact, trying to own the online space now which is a significant internal company departure from the past.

As recently as yesterday, speculation was that the ill-branded Live! Search could be rebranded in a much more internet friendly way. Kumo.com anyone? Their IM client… well, no one uses it.

xbox-360-logoOf course, they have jumped headfirst into the incubation industry by launching BizSpark, which seeks to provide promising young companies with technical resources, such as their server offerings, and human and business resources to help these investment companies, mostly web based startups, become viable.

Naturally, one of the odd players in the Microsoft ecosystem has been the Xbox 360 platform. It is a killer gaming platform (I am an avid Xbox Gamer) and their online gameplay over Xbox Live is second to none. It has always lacked any kind of cohesion for an online service though. Especially in 2008, where Facebook and Twitter rule the day and it is rare to find someone who is not on some kind of social networking platform.

So a few months ago, when word leaked out about a complete overhaul to the Xbox Live experience, there were many of us who were excited about a modernization with significant incorporation of social networking elements. With the launch the other day, some of that has been delivered.

The Xbox Experience, as it’s called, is a significantly streamlined dashboard making it extremely easy to access common items, such as the Xbox Marketplace. Incorporation of online video giant, also dabbling in the social networking space, Netflix makes the Experience worlds better. It is possible to watch Netflix “Instant Play” queue items directly via your Xbox Dashboard. Sweet, if the video quality was better. Putting this aside, the mashup is a great step in making the Xbox an entertainment hub.

However, significant issues remain. A “big bling” element to the new Xbox Experience, is the new avatars. Going through a wizard the first time I logged in, reminded me a bit of creating your Tiger Woods 2008 character. Though this is fine in creating a personalized environment, I find no purpose for an avatar except to snap a proverbial photo and making that photo your “avatar photo”. I would much rather designate an actual graphic or picture as my avatar, in much of the same way most social networks allow you to.

The storyline falls apart more when you login to manage your Xbox Live account from the web and discover they have not incorporated any further way of getting at your data. Microsoft would do well to develop robust APIs that would allow players to get an XML or JSON feed of achievements, gamerscores, last/currently played games as well as other social network elements.

Why not provide a much more efficient “friends” method that would allow players to have wish lists, friend challenges, friend groups, as well as a unique element I call “tip sharing”. Tip sharing would be a forum element where a friend could share intel about a game (say Fallout 3) and I could “download” that tip into my Xbox Live user account. When I reach the Farrugut West Metro station in Fallout 3 and my friend has discovered something, the game could feed me that intel from a friend.

Another social element would be the concept of a “lifeline” where, if I’m stuck during a game, I could get immediate assistance (in-game or otherwise) from my friends through screen sharing, instant message (kill Live! Messenger and use OpenAIM, please) or other “helper” element.

Let’s make it really social and make it possible for gamers to find other gamers in their area and schedule times together (if you have to, use a modified, online, lite version of Sharepoint or Exchange Server to make this happen).

Of course, a natural tie together, via OpenSocial, with other social networks, possible use of OAuth for data access and login, status messaging and comment, and other “social elements” would really flesh the Xbox Experience as useful in 2008.

What are your thoughts on the Xbox Experience?

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g is the new i

If you’ve been a long time reader of Technosailor, you might recall when I wrote about how i is the new e. Things change quickly in our industry and while the points made might be valid still, quickly we are finding that g is the new i.

It seems there’s a lot of buzz over g products. gmail. gTalk. gPhone. (!!)

Of course, particularly astute readers know that the gPhone is simply vaporware – but it’s fun to speculate about what might be!

Google’s got this karma going on that is false, yet the perception is very real. They have come out in the last two weeks with a slew of announcements about openly standardized stuff, and a lot of people seem to eb buying the big G. First there was Open Social – an “open platform” for creating apps among social networks.

Wow, cool. Google’s doing something open and cool – how very different of them. Hold that thought, we’ll get to it.

The second announcement pertained to Android, a mobile platform purchased by Google back in 2005, yet just coming to fruition in the Google suite (if only by announcement) last week. The theory is that phone manufacturers can create phones run on open source software running Google apps that would maintain portability of data among computers, phones, and any other point of service allowing access to the Google heaven.

So what’s this bad karma I am referring to. Well, it’s good karma. After all, karma is just a perception anyway. People sign on to the ways of Google – openness for all, defeating the evil Microsoft-Facebook alliance, and all will be good with the world. Hoorah for socialistic groupthink!

Open Social provides a way for a single massive regime (trading at $660/share as I write this) to control the way you and I operate on the internet. All roads lead to Google. Google controls the gateways. If all roads lead to Google and they control the gateways, it goes to reason that as the single largest source of revenue in the world, they are also looking to Adsensize social media (as if we don’t already willingly have enough already).

And if you don’t think that the Google Adsense bot isn’t also monitoring how you consume your internet, well then…. just go ahead and think I’m a conspiracy theorist! ;-)

Carrying on, if Google can also control the mobile platforms through (ahem, already freely available) google applications on phones (What? They’re FREE?!), then they can also control how information is sent and received and, yes, even consumed over the airwaves.

But it’s cool. Google has recieved amazing karma points in the social media community these last few weeks. It’s all about perception anyway, and they are percieved to be benevolent dictators. Quite a PR coup after the PR blowout.

That karma leads me to believe that g is the new i.

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