This month's rev of the Windows Live Contacts Control adds a new "tile" view that displays the photos of your Windows Live IM contacts in the control, and makes starting an IM session with them a simple one-click operation. The top part of this screenshot shows the new tile view. The bottom part is another instance of the contacts control in list view mode.
The web site that is hosting the contacts control can set a message string and/or URL that will be preloaded into the IM chat window. This makes it very easy to build a web site that encourage visitors to bring their friends to your site - the "swarm" effect that ad-monetized sites crave. Viral swarming, even.
This new tile view is all about sharing what you're browsing with your friends. The list view continues to be all about managing and using your contact infos. In tile view, the host web page does not receive any info about your contacts. The only thing the host web page can do is preload the message string for an IM session when you click on one of your buddy icons. As you browse around in the pages of a particular web site, the web site can be updating the message string in the contacts control sitting in a sidebar so that whenever you click on your friends face the message string will reflect the page you're looking at.
The little head and shoulders icon to the right of each image tile is the presence indicator, just like the Messenger client. Gray means offline, green means online, and red flashy things on top means their hair's on fire.
Click on the presence indicator icon to start an IM chat session with that person. Note that while the chat window is preloaded with the web site's message string, it has not been sent yet. You have the opportunity to edit the message text or cancel the whole thing before buzzing your buddy. To buzz with impunity, just hit Enter.
If they're not online or you can't IM them for various reasons, you can still contact them by email, by clicking on the email icon. The preloaded message for the IM chat becomes the subject of the email message.
In the whitespace below those two icons there is a third indicator: gleams! Little starburst icons indicate that the person has updated their profile info. Click on the gleam and the person's contact card displaying their recently changed info will popup. Gleams are ephemeral, as demonstrated by their absence in the demo screenshot!
Requirements and caveats: This beta release works in IE6, IE7, Firefox 1.5 and Firefox 2.0. The contacts that are shown in the "tile" view are only the IM contacts in your address book. If you entered a friend's contact info into your addressbook manually (instead of by IM invitation), then that friend won't show up in the tile view. Obviously, we can only show a photo of your contacts if they have put a photo of themselves in their profile. Those that haven't will display the blue silhouette image.
To display the online state of your contacts, you need to have the Windows Live Messenger client installed on your machine, and have it running, and be logged in. I know, that's a bit much to ask, but it was the fastest way to get this off the ground. We can back-fill the web controls to reduce these requirements over time.
We use the WL Messenger client's ActiveX interface to get the online state information. ActiveX works in IE, but not in Firefox, so no online state info in the Firefox browsers.
Currently, setting the message string can only be done at page load. That will be fixed soon, so that the message can be programmatically updated at any time during the control's lifetime.
Up next: More languages!