Microsoft Rolls Out Windows Live Expo

EXCLUSIVE Following three months of internal testing, Microsoft has announced that it is opening its classified listing service Windows Live Expo, formerly code-named "Fremont," to select businesses in the Seattle metropolitan area. The company says a nationwide beta will begin this spring, although it declined to elaborate as to how that would proceed.

Microsoft has marketed Windows Live Expo as a way for businesses to connect, and Windows Live Expo Product Unit Manager Garry Wiseman told BetaNews that it plans to allow Washington-based institutions and businesses, including the University of Washington, Safeco, Washington Mutual and Boeing access into the initial beta.

"We figured we'd try this and see what happens," Wiseman said. He explained that a small-scale beta launch is much easier to manage. Also, by first limiting it to businesses and institutions Microsoft hopes to see if its premise would work well in the real world, since employees have already built trust between one another and are located in the same general geographic area.

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"If you'd do a traditional e-mail invite, there would be listings from all over the country," Wiseman added, saying it would do little to test the viability of the concept, and likely have no common bond between one another.

First previewed by BetaNews at CES 2006, Live Expo allows users to post items for sale or rent, or list events similar to the way Craigslist operates. Users would be able to modify their listings with a WYSIWYG editor and post images as well.

But that is where the similarities end with the popular classified listing site, according to Wiseman.

The service will integrate with other Windows Live services, including Live Local, allowing a user to narrow down searches and find items within a certain distance. Through Live Messenger, users would be able to discover new listings through "gleams" next to their buddies names. Spaces integration is also planned, with the capability to post one's own listings on their Space through an optional module.

To facilitate communication between buyer and seller, an option is provided that allows buyers to instant message the seller through MSN and Windows Live Messenger.

In the initial beta the seller would receive a dialog box asking whether or not they would accept messages; in the future an IM bot will handle the conversation allowing for complete anonymity and also identifying the message is regarding a Live Expo listing.

While Wiseman was skeptical of the need for such a feature at first, he said internal testing showed that many preferred the instantaneous communication of IM to communication via e-mail.

The company also said that an internal beta has been ongoing since November, and some 14,000 company employees used the service. The most popular items were tickets to concerts, and the most popular categories electronics and computers. Feedback was positive enough that the company felt confident it was ready for a public beta, a spokesperson told BetaNews.

Futhermore, Microsoft says Live Expo further differs from Craigslist in that the user has control over where, what, and whom he buys from. For example, the user could limit listings to just those in his address book or buddy list, to people within the same e-mail domain, or within a certain radius of his or her location.

"We're more local than Craiglist," he chided.

Unlike the leading classified listing site, Live Local is more based on whom the user wants to buy from rather than where the item is located, Wiseman explaned.

"We have social networking available today," he said, pointing to the company's Messenger product. "By tapping into this social network we can create a more trustworthy marketplace."

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