Windows 8 deep-dive: Get to know the People app

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Social media is now embedded in our business workflows, our shopping habits, and our news sources. So it's no wonder that Microsoft infused social media features into its Windows 8 contacts app, People. The message is clear. Since social media is omnipresent in our lives, it should be woven throughout Windows 8 as well.

But make no mistake: People is a contacts list, first and foremost. Although it does allow you to commingle all of your social media and email associations—including those from Facebook, Google, Hotmail, LinkedIn, Outlook, Twitter, and your Microsoft Account—social media management is not the People app's main purpose.

What People does well

Let's say that you use a few different email platforms and a small handful of social media services, and that each platform and service connects you to hundreds of different people. Family and friends are on Facebook, coworkers are on LinkedIn, your favorite celebrities and media personalities are on Twitter, and a good portion of the people mentioned above appear in your various email address books.

The People app gathers up all of those associations and sorts them into alphabetical order for your viewing pleasure. Once your contacts are synced, you can favorite or even pin the important people in your life directly to your Start screen for quick access.

Pin (left) or favorite (right) your key contacts for easy access. 

People works well as a central depository for storing all the bits of information that pertain to your contacts. You can associate email addresses, Twitter handles, websites, phone numbers, addresses, job titles, and companies to each individual entry. You can also use People to quickly open the Messenger app to start a Facebook chat session with a contact, and People hooks into the new Maps app for planning a route to someone's address.

You'll also find some rudimentary social networking tools within the app that allow you to tweet, retweet, like, or comment on the latest content without having to leave People.

People gathers photos from each of your Facebook contacts, too. Just tap a contact's tile, and if he or she has public-facing Facebook photos, you can see them here—all separated into albums, just as they appear on the actual Facebook page. Scrolling through them is simple, as is viewing or posting comments.

Where People falls short

Although the People app attempts to provide a semblance of social media interactivity, its features are scant and its interface is difficult to navigate. For example, if you want to see new tweets from all your follows, you have to head to the 'What's new' section. But if you want to post your own tweet, you need to enter the 'Me' section, a completely different location. These two basic Twitter features aren't integrated—and that's confusing.

The app also flouts the familiar "long list of tweets and status updates" format that everyone has come to expect from pretty much every social media app in existence. Instead, it renders individual tweets and status updates inside obnoxiously large tiles that you can't compress, collapse, or otherwise resize. The layout leaves a lot of dull, blank space all over the page.

Traditional social media apps, such as Twitter or Tweetdeck for iOS and Android, offer a compact, list-style view that shows multiple tweets at once. People, in contrast, has room for only six updates on a single piece of screen real estate, so catching up on updates is more trouble than it needs to be.

The app takes the Windows 8 tile conceit too far by making each individual tweet its own ridiculously large tile.

Unfortunately, People doesn't include features for divvying up your contacts into logical groups. For instance, the ability to separate relatives, coworkers, friends, and casual acquaintances into easily sorted buckets would be helpful. As it stands, the single, unified contacts list becomes unmanageable quickly, and organizing people only by name doesn't provide enough customization and control.

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