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Microsoft launches Listas

Microsoft's got a new productivity tool called Listas. How does it stack up against the competition? Read on.

Microsoft Live Labs has a new "technology preview" for you to play with. It's called Listas and it's basically a social bookmarking service for keeping track of content you come across while browsing the Web, and sharing it with others. Users can make their own containers full of all sorts of links, and supplement it with text, images, and RSS feeds using a WYSIWYG editor or by just pasting in entire Web pages from their text clipboard. The service is being billed as a way to make lists, but I think its core appeal will ultimately end up as a Web clippings service.

Oddly enough, Microsoft has had their TagSpaces service kicking around since April. TagSpaces gives users a bookmarklet to tag any item they've come across while browsing, and drops it into a giant pool of tags for everyone. Listas is clearly a more advanced effort, and one designed to handle media and collaboration a little better.

This is what a Web page looks like when it's copied and pasted into Listas. All the links and pictures you see open up outside of the service. CNET Networks

Similar to other social bookmarking services, Microsoft has included a toolbar to help Listas users speed up their list creation. The toolbar borrows the idea of taking entire clips of Web content from services like Yoono, Clipmarks, and eSnips. For every little bit you grab, you can assign it to one of your pre-existing lists, or add it to a new one. There are two caveats about the toolbar though. For one, it's Internet Explorer-only. Secondly, there don't seem to be any plans to give users a Javascript bookmarklet to use like what they've done with TagSpaces (something which would add crossplatform functionality). It's also worth noting that you can accomplish the same effect of the toolbar by doing a copy and paste into a list item, which will include things like pictures, links, and embedded videos (which incidentally don't play without jettisoning you off the page).

Each list you create in Listas has its own privacy settings for group collaboration, or for keeping it your own. Your collaborators must have a Windows Live ID, but will get full access to edit, add, and delete any items. Microsoft has done something cool by letting you copy any interesting lists you come across. When you click the copy button, an editable version will show up in your lists, even if the original list author had set the list to read-only.

I can't say I'm entirely impressed with Listas over some of the other efforts out there. It's a strange hybrid between GTD and social bookmarking that lacks the true integration with some of Microsoft's other social services like LiveSpaces and MSN Messenger. It's nice there's a WYSIWYG text editor, but some of the simplest functions like adding hyperlinks require a keyboard shortcut, which is counterintuitive. There's also a profanity filter that turns any off-color words into "barnacles," even on lists that you've made private--something I think is just stupid.

I'm interested to see what Microsoft ends up doing with this--whether they decide to continue it as a standalone service or build it into Live Hotmail, Spaces, or their Office Online suite. For serious GTD list-making there are already several services out there like Remember The Milk, 37Signals' BackPack, Nozbe, Google Docs, and Vitalist (among many, many others). For basic wiki making, you're also better off with something simple like Wikia, PBwiki, or Zoho Wiki.

The Listas WYSIWYG editor is pretty barebones. Adding a link to text requires a keyboard shortcut, which unfortunately doesn't even work in Firefox. CNET Networks