So.cl is a research project developed by Microsoft. Till last week the site was only available to students via invites. Now it is accessible to the general public. Though it is a social network, Microsoft did not launch it with the intention of taking on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. This project is Microsoft’s attempt to do something completely different.
This product was developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs unit as a research project – “focused on the future of social experiences and learning“. Like other social networks, So.cl is designed to -
- Let users share content
- Connect with people who have similar interests
- Find & compile montages of content and share them with their network
- Watch videos with a group of friends
So.cl lets you login using your Facebook and Windows Live details. A member’s So.cl activities do not show up on his Facebook profile/page unless the option is activated.
Why Microsoft chose to have this entry barrier is unclear. One reason could be that Microsoft believes So.cl to be a ‘layer’ above the 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,” it says. “We hope to encourage students to re-imagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives.”
On So.cl, users create ‘collages of content’ using Bing’s search engine technology and external links. These can be made into ‘rich posts’ which can be shared with other users. You can also have “video parties” in which members watch online videos together, commenting on them via chat. Another feature of So.cl is a ‘bookmarklet’ feature similar to Facebook’s ‘Like’ button.
Even though the project is available to anyone for a public beta test period, the initial focus on students still shines through. It lets users build posts with many elements – such as photos, video and text – and share them. The main focus is to build communities around specific goals – educational or otherwise. The founders of So.cl deliberately designed the platform with a student audience in mind. Their initial target audience was students from sciences as well as humanities – rather than simply technical.
In a sector where Google and smaller rivals have struggled to gain a foothold, Microsoft makes it clear that So.cl is not a rival to any of them. “The fact that So.cl is targeted at students echoes Facebook’s beginnings and has made many assume it is a Facebook clone,” said Eden Zoller, principal analyst at technology consultants Ovum. “But So.cl is, as Microsoft stresses, an experiment designed to be a layer on existing social networks. Microsoft is being sensible in positioning So.cl in this way – the opposite approach of Google, which entered social networking all guns blazing with a full on service, and is having modest success.”
The service was opened up to the general public with little fanfare; leading us to believe that Microsoft is not too ambitious about the project. 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,” says the FAQ page on So.cl. “We hope to encourage students to re-imagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives.
Here’s a look at how So.cl’s user interface looks -
Even though So.cl uses Bing for searching data via the public API, it is not a Bing product. Microsoft hopes that in due course of time the project may help Microsoft in improving Bing’s search capabilities. Microsoft hopes to use the data that is publicly available in its own research and will also share it with third parties.
It is difficult to estimate the level of success Microsoft will achieve with this research project. As of now, So.cl has a long way to go if it wishes to have a hold in the social media sector.
“As students work together, they often search for the same items, and discover new shared interests by sharing links,” the So.cl site reads. “We see this trend today on many social networks, such as Twitter, where shared links spread virally and amplify popular content. So.cl experiments with this concept by automatically sharing links as you search.” – Microsoft