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Web Watch by Leslie Walker

A So-So Debut For Microsoft's Blog Service

By Leslie Walker
The Washington Post
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page F07

Microsoft Corp. made a belated entrance into the "blogosphere" Thursday, unveiling a free Web-log publishing service one day after Merriam-Webster Inc. proclaimed "blog" the word of the year.

Microsoft faces many more-experienced competitors in this market; America Online has offered subscribers a publishing service called AOL Journals for more than a year, and Google bought Blogger, a similar offering, in 2002. But the Redmond, Wash., software maker's new MSN Spaces (spaces.msn.com), available in a test form Thursday, displays some notable integration with other Microsoft services, including Hotmail, MSN Messenger and the MSN Music store.

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MSN Spaces works likes this: Anyone can set up a free, ad-supported Web journal by registering or signing in under an existing Hotmail or MSN Messenger user name. He or she then names the site, selects from various layouts and page designs, and decides what to include on the new home page. That can include the usual journal or blog entries but also photos (which can be viewed as slide shows), lists of favorite songs, Web sites or anything else. Users can restrict access to friends or make their sites viewable to anyone.

"Blogging is growing, but it is still a pretty niche thing," said Brooke Richardson, lead manager of MSN communication services. "We wanted to introduce it to a more mainstream audience and show them it can be about more than just blogging."

Like most other blog services, MSN Spaces lets readers subscribe to favorite blogs using "RSS" ("really simple syndication"), a popular Web-publishing system. (Those readers will have to use non-Microsoft software to read these RSS feeds, as Microsoft has yet to offer any of its own.)

In our testing, MSN Spaces performed so-so at best. The photo publisher choked over a dial-up connection and wouldn't accept any images. Occasionally, text entries disappeared instead of getting published to the Web.

The established blogging community was quick to try out Microsoft's new service, and several bloggers noted Microsoft is running an automated text filter that blocks certain words from getting published.

The MSN censor appears uneven in our tests; it allowed plenty of "god damn" headlines, but blocked a nod to an old Elton John song, "The bitch is back." Microsoft said it prohibits profanity in rules of conduct people must consent to when signing up for MSN Spaces. The company also said it is testing a mechanism to screen images.

So how did "blog" earn its buzzword status? On Wednesday, Merriam-Webster announced that more people had looked up "blog" on the dictionary publisher's Web site (www.merriam-webster.com) than any other word this year. That site only recently added a definition of the word, which will also appear in next year's print edition: "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."

A Spam Counterattack

Lycos Europe tried to turn the tables on spam artists last week. The Internet service offered a free screensaver at a site called "Make Love, Not Spam." When installed on users' computers, the screensaver would try to jam the sites of known spammers with bogus requests for data.

On Friday, Lycos yanked the screensaver and replaced it with a "stay tuned" sign -- but not before critics had called it vigilante justice. One Internet backbone provider, Global Crossing, even blocked traffic to the Lycos site, the British Internet provider Netcraft reported. Lycos Europe did not answer requests for comment Friday.


E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.

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