Microsoft Quietly Launches Potential Facebook Competitor So.cl

On the heels of the highly anticipated Facebook initial public offering, tech biggie Microsoft made a hush-hush entrance into the social networking arena, unleashing its So.cl experiment from beta-testing.

The social network, known as So.cl (pronounced “social”), which we began hearing about in December, is currently only available to college students, reported Mashable and CNET.

Deemed an “experimental research project,” rather than a product (sounds rather mumbo-jumbo, no?), the aim of So.cl is to combine Web browsing, search, and social-networking to allow students to share materials (search results) for academic purposes.

So.cl was tested by college students at New York University, University of Washington, and Syracuse University. Developed by Microsoft’s Fuse Labs team of designers and engineers, So.cl is powered by Bing search, and users log on to the network through Facebook or Windows Live.

Search results and “any other data you post to So.cl” can be viewed by all other users. Additionally, data that were publicly posted will also be made available for use by other people and entities, Microsoft makes clear on an information page about the new social network.

The FAQ page additionally states these aims of the project:

  • So.cl combines social networking and search to help people find and share interesting Web pages in the way students do when they work together.
  • So.cl helps you create rich posts by assembling montages of visual Web content.
  • To encourage interaction and collaboration, So.cl provides rich media sharing and real-time sharing of videos via “video parties.”

The page also elucidates that Microsoft has no intention of having its social-search app compete with existing social networks:

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.

Transparency seems to be a key word with the app, as searches are shared publicly via the default setting. Links are automatically shared as the user searches. So.cl uses public application-programming interfaces to show search result data and then share those materials, which can include Web pages, images or videos — for academic purposes — in a type of social search where users “share links as you search.”

Unique features include the ability to create video parties, a feature that essentially lets users create a list of movies, share the list with friends, and chat together, and the ability to “riff” on posts, which is described as a new way of improvising and interacting with content.

Readers: Even though Microsoft is not pitting So.cl as a competitor to Facebook, do you think it can carve its own niche among college students?

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