Redmond, Washington -- While most technologically-inclined eyes have been riveted onto the Facebook IPO, software maker Microsoft has quietly launched So.cl, which incorporates elements of social networking, search, and media sharing with a user interface resembling Google+, ran in beta and was tested by university students last year.
Conceived by software maker Microsoft's FUSE labs, the social network was promoted as a tool created for use by students and academics for research purposes at select universities since late last year. Pronounced “social,” the service has not been reported as a Facebook rival or Twitter rip-off. It is, instead, an additional layer to social networking--and requires users to login through either a Facebook or Windows Live account.
The site incorporates elements from search and sharing for research purposes--making students the perfect group for testing the site. Besides, it is similar to another emerging social site Pinterest, in that users can create boards. And just like the early days of Facebook, the network is only for college students right now.
“FUSE Labs' So.cl project is now accepting all users interested in joining the site,” a Microsoft representative informed CNET. “So.cl is an experimental research project focused on the future of social experiences and learning, especially among younger people.”
Microsoft launches So.cl. (Credit: Screen shot by Steven Musil/CNET)
According to company's FAQ, which noted, “We wish students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools,” So.Cl noted in its “About” section. “We hope to motivate students to re-imagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved, by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives.”
Somewhat identical to social media Facebook's share or recommend buttons, So.cl touts a “bookmarklet” feature that adds a “Share on So.cl” button to users' bookmarks tool-bars, allowing them to share interesting Web sites with other So.cl users. In addition to sharing, commenting, and tagging other users' posts, they can also “riff” on the post -- a feature that Microsoft describes as “a new way to interact and improvise with content.”
In fact, peeking at the “Everyone” feed, it is easy to see what all So.cl users are searching for and sharing with the world. But alas, one of the biggest problems with “social search” is that we do not always want to see what everyone else is searching for: You can read more about So.cl at the site's FAQ page.
Interestingly, another noticeable feature in So.cl is the ability to create “video parties” that allow users to search for and assemble videos they can share with other users.
A video party on So.cl. (Credit: Screenshot by Steven Musil/CNET)
Additionally, So.cl naturally appears to have close ties with Bing's recently revamped social search. Besides, the network, which Microsoft in an earlier blog post mentioned as an “experimental research project,” initially made the service available to information and design schools at the University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University.
Among other things, the combination of features that are popular on other social networking sites--such as Pinterest's Boards feature--and the attempt to encourage students to use it, it may be that Microsoft is taking a long-term approach to break into the social networking sphere--with students as its first port of call.