The reason that I like Web Activities (and encourage others to use them) is that I don’t really want to traipse all over creation to keep up with my friends, nor do I like having to share something more than once. As much as Microsoft might like to hope, we’re not all going to use Windows Live for everything all the time. Web activities offer the (almost) perfect compromise.
It’s obvious to me there are a lot of misperceptions about how Web activities work. Even the esteemed Microsoft gurus can’t seem to get it straight in one of their YouTube videos. Some seem to think you can follow your friends’ activities on another network just by setting up that network as one of your Web activities (regardless of whether those friends use Windows Live or not). Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way; you’re thinking of the imaginary friend feature on FriendFeed. Others seem to think that adding external networks, such as Facebook, to your Web activities helps your friends on those networks see what you’re doing on Windows Live. Wrong again, I’m afraid; it’s actually the other way around.
Setting up a Web activity actually allows your Windows Live friends to see what you’re doing on those other networks. You may not use those services all the time, but if/when you do, Web activities automagically pull those updates into your profile and your friends’ What’s New with Your Network feed.
When properly configured, I promise it’s much simpler to use than to try to explain. In fact, I’ve only seen one explanation that does justice to this feature. Microsoft hired CommonCraft to build one of their whimsical, South Park-inspired instructional videos a while back. I think it sums up the idea nicely.
Web Activities Explained by CommonCraft
Consider this scenario: since she discovered Facebook, my wife doesn’t visit Windows Live much these days. However, she does have a Windows Live account. I setup Facebook as one of my many Web activities; again, that doesn’t mean her updates will show in my WNF. On the other hand, if she was to set up the Facebook Web activity, then I’d be able to see all her posts and shares right inside my WNF, because she’s in my network. I’m on Facebook every day, so she doesn’t see a lot of “what’s in it for me” value. I’m still trying to talk her into it.
Web activities also allow me to simplify how I share things with my Windows Live network. For instance, suppose I have a cool link to share. I can post it as a shared favorite to Windows Live, and my Windows Live network sees it. Or…I can post it to Facebook, which I have configured as a Windows Live Web Activity, and now all of my Facebook network and my Windows Live network sees it. Facebook also happens to be wired into FriendFeed, so if anyone follows me there, they get to see it too. Three birds with one stone, so to speak, and apart from the initial setup, it takes no time at all. That’s why I share most stuff these days on Facebook, unless I’m specifically targeting my WL network. I get the maximum bang for my sharing buck.
The bottom line is that Web activities distinguish WL from a lot of its competitors in the field (except FriendFeed, which still does it better with imaginary friends…sorry Windows Live). It’s about letting your friends use their favorite services and still remain connected with you in a meaningful and convenient way. You just have to convince them to dip a toe in the Windows Live pool to get the ball rolling.