Microsoft throws open its social networking service to public

Microsoft has just thrown open its social networking service ‘So.cl’ to the general public. This site, designed to allow users to share and post comments on offbeat search results, also lets them engage with ‘like-minded’ users. The service, primarily targeted at the learning community, had been restricted formerly to invitees at schools and universities in the US. Being pitched more as an ‘experiment’ than a hardcore rival to other popular networks, it integrates with Facebook.

Implications of a wider reach for the new network

This particular move to open up the ‘restricted’ service has been initiated with hardly any fanfare, prompting a section of analysts to believe that the company still sees limited scope for the project. The very fact that So.cl is largely targeted at students seems to echo Facebook’s beginnings. It has made many experts to assume that it’s a ‘Facebook clone’ in some way. But  Microsoft asserts that So.cl is more of an experiment specifically designed to act as a layer on most other existing social networks. An official note on the site elaborates the concept behind it, to state:

“We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools. We hope to encourage students to reimagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved, by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives. We are formally partnering with selected schools (including University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University). However, anyone can participate in the FUSE Labs research community as several of our experiments are available for use on the web.”

Searches in So.cl by default get shared publicly. Students work together and often search for similar items, and end up discovering new shared interests through sharing of links. This particular trend is there on several social networks like Twitter that cause shared links to spread virally, amplifying popular content.

‘Collages of content’ shared and discussed

The company mentions that the product developed by its Fuse Labs unit is largely a ‘research project’ that focuses on the future of inclusive social experiences and formal learning. Its members are invited to form ‘collages of content’ utilizing the Bing search engine technology as well as external links they can then opt to share with others. They can sign in with their Facebook log-in details. However, their So.cl activities will show up on respective Facebook’s pages only after the relevant option is activated.

Members can later identify those interested in the topics of their choices, monitor their associate users’ feeds and participate in ‘video parties’ wherein members can together watch online videos, and also comment on them via a live chat function. So.cl allows users to watch and comment on popular videos from sites like YouTube at the same time

Microsoft is moving about it sensibly by choosing to position it in this way – quite the opposite stance of Google, which barged into the competitive social networking almost all guns blazing with a full-fledged on service, and has enjoyed only modest success thus far. The project on the other hand, could well help Microsoft in further improving search capabilities of Bing.