In the shadow of a week (and weekend) filled with Facebook-related news,Microsoft has quietly launched its own social network that has been in development for almost a year. This social network, called So.cl, is said to help students connect with one another – a concept that early adopters of Facebook know well (and often miss).
However, it’s clear So.cl is not designed to compete with Facebook. Microsoft says So.cl (pronounced “social”) “is an experimental research project, developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.” The primary focus of So.cl is helping “people find and share interesting web pages in the way students do when they work together” by combining social networking and search.
Microsoft is sneaky in the way they present the focus of So.cl, which seems to be designed specifically for students. However, it’s clear that Microsoft is attempting to take a swing at Google‘s social network, Google+, which is also designed to combine social and search. To differentiate the two, Microsoft (seemingly) focuses on a niche of users (students), and also encourages users to share data a little differently by creating “montages of visual web content.”
Microsoft even goes as far as to say they expect students to use other social networks such as Facebook in addition to So.cl. The reality is, though, that anyone can sign up to use So.cl. Currently, Microsoft has partnered with schools (includingUniversity of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University) but “anyone can participate in the FUSE Labs research community,” which includes the So.cl project. Signing up for the So.cl social network is as easy as (and somewhat ironically) connecting your Facebook account.
Even if Microsoft is feigning its focus on students for the sake of user acquisition, the outlook for So.cl doesn’t look good either way. Google has tried painfully hard for this combination to succeed with Google+, and despiteGoogle dominating the market share in search, barely anyone is really using Google+. At the same time, Facebook didn’t exactly fail by extending its reach beyond the initial batch of college kids. Are there lessons to be learned from each of these companies anyway?
For the sake of those at Microsoft that may have otherwise wasted days, weeks, months, and possibly years of their careers on So.cl – let’s hope so.