Microsoft's So.cl is described as “an experimental research project, developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.” Quietly debuting this week, it was previously to students studying information and design at the University of Washington, Syracuse and New York University, and originally called Tulalip. Facebook remains a log-in choice on So.cl but Twitter does not, replaced by Windows Live.
So.cl is now open to everyone, and as stated on their site, “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. So.cl is not meant to replace existing full-featured search and social networking tools. It is an experimental research project using a minimal set of features which help combine search with the social network for the purpose of learning.”
Delivering videos, images, web or news answers to queries resulting in a virtual scrapbook, searches are public, with the intent of being iterative, and posts can become collaborative and new relationships are formed around similar interests.
“So.cl is more like an image board where you post and share web-based content based on general interest categories such as cars, movies, and sports — all of which is filtered through a built-in Bing search tool.”
There’s a link called “Riff” that enables a user to do a Bing search on top of an original post to create a new, original post, and all posts can be tagged.
The big sell is the collaborative video function, called "video parties," which aims to improve on the Google+ hangout video feature by enabling chat between participants in real time. Participants can post comments, add and rearrange videos to a playlist, and share links. Searches can be marked ‘private’ but all other data is public and can be accessed by third parties.
“Microsoft has tried to aggregate other social networking services under one MS banner before and there’s certainly something of that about So.cl. With the company heavily invested in both Facebook and Skype, it’s no surprise to see elements of both in this,” commented pocketlint.com.
“At the same time, there’s definitely something other going on here; whether it’s a case of repurposing the above with the in-house Bing, Windows Live and the same ideas as the People hub on Windows Phone doesn’t really matter because, ultimately, what it’s aiming to create is something altogether different. If So.cl can achieve that is another matter.”
It’s a bold move in a crowded field from a company that has excelled at both. Time will shortly tell how socially apt So.cl really is.
But as PC World’s Ian Paul writes, “So.cl doesn't appear to be built for mass appeal. I'd say if your life is already filled with tweets, Facebook likes, and LinkedIn status updates, you can safely skip So.cl without missing much."