What Microsoft calls “Wave 3” of its Windows Live services shows modest steps towards its goals of integrating more social features into what still remains an odd-feeling collection of services. Users can now get a feed experience on their profile that is capable of incorporating activity reports from outside services like Twitter, Flickr, Flixster, Photobucket, iLike, and others.

I’m skeptical of Microsoft’s ability to steal away users from MySpace and Facebook — and Microsoft execs told me that’s not the core objective. Rather, they hope to integrate social network features into other established activities. Microsoft’s strength is its Hotmail and Messenger customer base, so this makes sense, but MSN feels absent. And though it’s the original platform company, in this consumer-facing roll out Microsoft isn’t emphasizing APIs and mash-up capabilities

More important, I’d like to see more two-way syndication. Users should be able to get their Hotmail & Messenger updates within Facebook if they want to. Microsoft doesn’t lack that vision, but this wave is more about the reverse direction, and of course, the two big social networks are noteworthy by their absence.

All the portals are feeling the threats to their previously dominant online media business model from Google and from the social networks. Neither Microsoft, AOL, nor Yahoo has successfully answered these threats, and each wants to tap into the potential of real social marketing (not selling cheap banners on MySpace) and a so-far completely unrealized universal communications hub.

Ironically, the portals with their big sales forces, army of developers, and relationships with advertisers and agencies, are in a better position to figure out what the future of social marketing will look like than the social networks are. But MySpace in particular is working on fixing that, even if Facebook threw the bigger dice first with Beacon (they’ll get it right, eventually). As for communications hubs, they’ve always held promise, but there’s never been a perceived need for them on the consumer side. Meanwhile, the social networks are rapidly becoming the hubs for a variety of social computing activities, if not e-mail replacements.

Stay tuned, the report’s almost done.

Other folks’ takes:

Joe Wilcox at Microsoft Watch
Mary Jo Foley at All About Microsoft
Kara Swisher at Boomtown