Microsoft soft-launched a new social network on Wednesday. Called Socl -- and pronounced "social" -- it appears to be closer to Pinterest and Bing than to Facebook or Google+.
The site is coming off a beta period launched last year, during which it was available only to Microsoft employees and students at selected universities.
Socl, at www.so.cl, is a project of the company's R&D FUSE Labs, and is focused around the ability to search for and share content. Functions include profiles, the ability to follow other users in the network, private messages, activity streams and video sharing, but the central functionality is Bing, Microsoft's search engine.
Feeds, Profiles, Parties
The site recommends people and topics for users to follow. A Feed shows the activity stream of filterable posts from others, a Profile also has settings, and Parties offer the ability to make or watch a shared video.
Users can post by searching for a topic, selecting specific results like a link or photo, and adding a comment. Other users can comment or share a post, can tag it, or can "riff," which is the ability to comment via another added image. Searching to post is one differentiator from other sites, as are collections of YouTube video-based Parties where users can add their own videos and text chat with others.
Currently, the site appears to be a public work-in-progress that is oriented around social interactions related to subject-based content, driven by Bing searches and resembling the shared photo collages of Pinterest. Privacy features are rudimentary, as is site navigation.
Some industry observers have noted that Socl follows efforts by Microsoft to make Bing into more of a socially enhanced search engine, something that Google and others have also been exploring in recent months. Socl's orientation is more toward what users can do around content, rather than how users can interact with each other. Users who sign in with their Facebook credentials can utilize their groups of friends in that social network.
'Never Too Late'
On its About page, Socl said that it is intended to allow expression and sharing of ideas "through rich post collages comprised of images, links, captions and videos." The site noted that it began as an "an experiment in social search targeted at students for the purpose of learning," and it has evolved into a space where "people connect over shared interests expressed through beautiful posts."
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that Socl could appeal to Microsoft users "who were looking to maximize their investment" in Microsoft products. He added that there was still room for another social network, just as it's never "too late to open another popular nightclub."
Shimmin noted that, even in its semi-finished state, Socl "doesn't feel like an experiment," but rather appears to be a "strategic commitment" by Microsoft. The next steps, he predicted, will be to "broaden Socl's feature set and its integration with other Microsoft services," like SkyDrive, and he said he would "be surprised" to see Socl lose its standalone status and merely become another enhancement for Bing.