With Redmond-based Microsoft having had a rather successful year in most areas, it has now launched its social network effort, So.cl.
The software giant maintains the site is not out there to compete with Facebook and its 800 million+ active users, or indeed any of the current collective such as Twitter or LinkedIn. Instead, the intention of the search-based site is to work in addition to what’s already out there.
The service is being developed under the watchful eye of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs division, and is said to be more of an experimental exercise than a fully-fledged finished product.
Initially previewed in summer, the service, like any good torrent site, is inaccessible to new signups, and anybody attempting to do so will be informed So.cl is "over capacity".
So, what exactly does a "student social network" actually entail? Well So.cl is thought to be more focused on collaborative consumption as opposed to communication. The earlier previews demonstrated what Microsoft refers to as a "video party" – essentially video sharing – but in a somewhat unique twist, users interacted via a chat-room with others watching a video, as you would if you were in the same room with somebody and watching, say, a YouTube clip.
It’s important to consider the origins of Facebook before allowing ourselves to be sucked in by the purely student social ideal. After all, the world’s second most frequented site did itself cater solely to those studying at university before eventually being made available the world over.
With Microsoft having acquired Skype for the tidy sum of $8.5 billion back in May, it would be naive to presume the software maker has no further plans for So.cl if it does begin to pick up. Sure, Windows 8, and the umbrella of products therein (Mobile, desktop, Xbox) may leech a great deal of the company’s time and resources, but a firm the size of Microsoft doesn’t tend to do things by half measures.
Maybe, just maybe, Steve Ballmer’s company is planning a more strategic approach than Google’s, which launched in a blaze of beta glory but as yet hasn’t quite drawn in the vast numbers seen at its inception. It’s more than likely Microsoft would prefer to stalk its prey, creeping up quite inconspicuously before pouncing.
After all, ‘working alongside’ could be conveyed as finding a niche, and if Microsoft does indeed find a niche, it’s highly unlikely to settle for a supporting role.
We’ll be keeping a close eye.