Three days after its IPO, Facebook saw the arrival of a new social network and a possible future competitor on the web. so.cl is from none other than Microsoft, originally created for students and tested at several U.S. universities. So.cl was first unveiled last year by Microsoft–it’s only now that the Redmond company decided to launch the social network officially to all users.
Pronounced “social,” the project from Microsoft’s FUSE Labs is not designed to compete with Facebook though it is launching with a similar premise, allowing students to share and search content with their peers for research purposes.
“FUSE Labs’ So.cl project is now accepting all users interested in joining the site,” Microsoft said in a statement. “So.cl is an experimental research project focused on the future of social experiences and learning, especially among younger people. So.cl combines search and social networking for the purpose of learning and is the latest experiment from FUSE Labs.”
So.cl search is integrated with public Bing APIs to display web pages, images, or videos search results data.
To connect to the social site, you must enter your Facebook or Windows Live login information. So.cl lets you initially define your interests based on themes (like music, sports, travel, art, food etc.). Once you set up your profile, you can start to monitor the activities of several people, follow and be followed by other users. You can also comment and publish text, photos and video. The central search engine is powered by none other than Bing, searching these themes with a live chat option.
“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,” Microsoft said on the social site. “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.”
A Competitor to Google+
So.cl combines several functions of social media, search engines and an interface very similar to Google+ from which you can share content. Although the So.cl interface has a more than reasonable resemblance with Google+, you can also see the influence of other social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The site resembles Pinterest in that users can create boards. It’s similar to Facebook in that it provides the ability to follow other users, and like Twitter in a way to follow general interests such as film or design. And just like the initial days of Facebook, the network is only meant for universities and students.
Despite the glaring similarities to today’s most popular social networks, Microsoft is really building off its existing services, and even leveraging one of its most popular social partnerships to date. So.cl uses Facebook login to create new user accounts, and as Microsoft has a sizeable investment in Facebook, they’re likely to continue teaming up around certain things like social search and Skype integration.
As a standout feature, Microsoft adds “video parties” in So.cl that distinguish the site from other social networks as it allows users to search for videos, which then can be edited and shared with other users, though Google+ aims to do something similar with Hangout.
Microsoft’s Social Networking History
This isn’t the first time Microsoft’s gotten involved in social, having injected user-generated content to enhance search recommendations on Bing. Bing’s social approach has largely been sidelined by Google’s massive reach, and has yet to prove the real potential and Bing.
Microsoft’s research team also developed location-based social networking that brings together the physical and online world for social networking services.
Future So.cl Goals
What priorities we will see in the furthered development of the Microsoft’s social network in the coming months?
On paper, so.cl is still an experimental project, but in fact it leaves little confidence that Microsoft intends to use so.cl as a research tool just for students. Rather, Microsoft likely plans to explore the social media space on a broader spectrum, targeting a niche audience in hopes of gaining early adoption through its research-enabled value proposition.
At first glance it appears that Microsoft is planning to use the experience of real search users to boost its own search engine, Bing. Your search results are shared with others, and the results can also be access by third parties. This means that the social interactions can also benefit other companies and partners, building a business model and potential advertising platform relatively early.
Microsoft is yet to integrate Bing search engine with So.cl, but looking at the long term, this may help revive Bing and enable Microsoft to take advantage of growing trends around social search and recommendations.
Window 8 operating system and the next version of Windows Mobile OS will also likely offer a number of ways to post on its social network, completing the circle and competing at a wider range with Google’s encompassing approach to social search and Apps.