- Microsoft's social search tool, So.cl, is now available to the public
- The tool (pronounced "social") lets users share Web content with others
- Designers say it's not meant as a Facebook competitor
- Social had been available to some college students since last year
Does the Web have room for one more social network? Microsoft thinks so.
With Facebook hogging the spotlight last week and Google working to stay in the game with Google+, Microsoft has quietly launched So.cl, which it describes as a social-search tool to share information and meet people with common interests.
What it's not, Microsoft says, is a rival to Facebook.
"So.cl is an experimental research project focused on the future of social experiences and learning, especially among younger people," Microsoft said Monday in an e-mail.
The tool was launched late last year for students at a handful of colleges and universities. Last week, the company quietly made it available to anyone for a public beta test period.
Among the features of So.cl (pronounced, of course, "social") is a "bookmarklet" feature similar to Facebook's "Like" button. That lets users share sites or pages they find interesting with other users. You can share, comment on or tag other people's posts.
So.cl also has a "video party" feature that lets users chat with others and incorporate videos into those chats.
The tool comes from Microsoft's FUSE Labs, which works with product research and development teams on new Web and social tools.
The initial focus on students still shines through. With So.cl, users can build posts with many elements -- such as photos, video and text -- and share them. It also lets them find other users with similar interests and build communities around specific goals, educational or otherwise.
The researchers behind So.cl deliberately sought to collaborate with a student audience that is more holistic -- encompassing representation from the sciences as well as the humanities -- rather than simply technical, says Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs.
Just don't call it Microsoft's answer to Facebook. Google and smaller rivals have struggled to gain a foothold in a social-media landscape that Facebook dominates. On So.cl's FAQ page, Microsoft makes it clear that their new tool is designed as a layer on top of existing 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 reimagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives."