Lync Online Observation: Missing Photos With Federated Users

After a few teething problems, I finally managed to get my Office 365 account (Plan P1) working with the Lync for Mac client. This isn’t a post about how those problems were resolved (update the client to version 14.0.1!) – but rather a comment on a simple observation made when I finally started to use Lync for the first time.
The first thing I wanted to do after signing-in successfully was to, well, check that I could send a message. Step forward Tristan Watkins (general infrastructure guru and previous Office 365 Grid User of the Week) as my chosen test subject! The conversation went something like this:

Lync - First Conversation
Hmmm. Now leaving aside the intelligent conversation the interesting thing here is that Tristan has a photo associated with his account, but yet I can’t see it? Why not?
Well it appears that Tristan’s Lync contact card details are synced with an on-premises Active Directory, and that this is where the photo property is being set. Tristan is using what I believe to be the default setting of ‘Default corporate picture‘ in his Lync client, and not explicitly providing a public web address to a photo.
Lync - Default Corporate Picture
I think the interesting observation from a user perspective here is that when Tristan is using Lync with guys inside his organisation then they can see the corporate pictures and yet people outside the organisation can’t. However, as Lync Online easily allows me to create a contacts list with people both in and outside my organisation one may be expecting all of the contacts to have a similar experience. To ensure that consistent experience then it appears that the option to show a picture from a web address needs to be chosen.
So what does this mean? Well first up, I think it’s just something that if you’re federating your AD to Lync Online it’s good to be aware of. On a technical level then I’m guessing that it means that the AD user picture (thumbnailPhoto?) isn’t included as part of the federation – and perhaps is never likely to be because it’s stored as a BLOB. To get consistency perhaps some form of one-off sync could be used or maybe store a public URL in AD? I don’t know, but maybe somebody out there can work it out; Tristan…?

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