Microsoft Tries a So.cl Experiment
Microsoft opened So.cl, its experimental approach to a social network, to all users Monday, aiming to create a place to find and share online articles, videos and digital content, all with the help of its search engine Bing.
So.cl doesn't appear to be a direct challenge to established social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. In fact, it's possible to use a Facebook ID or a Windows Live account to sign in to the site. Once they're logged on, users can post content in different categories ranging from sports to movies to different hobbies. The site will also recommend further searches.
The site also has a "Video Party" feature, wherein So.cl users can search for and assemble videos to share with other users.
So.cl users can share, comment, tag and "riff" on each other's posts, much like on Facebook or other networks, but it's not meant to be a site where old friends can go to check up on the details of each others' lives. Instead, Microsoft hopes that users will find new ways to interact based purely on content.
So.cl is geared specifically toward students or younger learners. Microsoft's FUSE Labs, the arm of the company that spearheads the project, said the site aims to explore how young people use digital content and social media to learn via the Web.
Microsoft intially rolled out So.cl (pronounced "social") in December to information and design students at the University of Washington, Syracuse and New York University, but now is the first time the network is open to all users.
Microsoft didn't respond to our request for comment.
Microsoft has positioned So.cl as an experiment. It's something that could go in a number of different directions, Roy Morejon, president of Command Partners, told TechNewsWorld.
"With Microsoft focusing on social search and the endless possibilities of personalized search within the So.cl network and Bing/Yahoo search queries, it will be interesting to see what overlap or integration come from this," he said.
If the company can find the right niche within education, said Morejon, it could be an interesting way for Microsoft to get ahead in an area, where sites like Facebook and Twitter are mostly discouraged.
"Much of what Microsoft is pushing is university and education-based networking, especially with their partnering with the University of Washington, Syracuse and NYU," he said. "This is where I see the potential for profits within the education niche and learning how students share information with the purposes of learning."
For all the talk of So.cl taking a different approach, though, the network shares some similarities with the mainstream social networks, Ty Downing, CEO of SayItSocial, told TechNewsWorld.
"Unfortunately, until we all can really get a chance to drive into this new network, the jury is still out on how it will compete -- or fizzle -- but as of now, I just see this as a desperate and belated attempt to jump into the billion-dollar social arena," he said.
Even the company's experimental approach to the social networking scene might be too much for the mainstream Internet user to handle, said Downing.
"Consumers are suffering from social burnout," he said. "Consumers are tired, exhausted and simply are not ready to learn another social network, in my opinion."
Ultimately, Microsoft will have to give users a huge incentive to join So.cl in addition to their already time-consuming media habits, Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld. That's an incentive Microsoft has yet to offer, he said, and unless it can, the site will ultimately suffer.
"In this early version it hasn't yet answered that question, 'Why should I use this?' And the company will have to aggressively promote the site and its benefits to end users or it will languish," he said.