Coming a few days after Facebook's Wall Street debut to mixed reaction by investors, Microsoft 's new social network had been widely seen as a possible rival to Mark Zuckerberg's juggernaut.
"Is this the next Facebook?" asked Fox News as the network, So.cl (pronounced Social), was opened to general users after a long beta-testing period.
A Bing Bulletin Board
But the fledgling network, geared toward students, as was Facebook initially when it was conceived in Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room, seems to be more akin to a hybrid of search engine Bing and Pinterest, the upstart topic-based content-sharing network.
"Express Yourself," So.cl implores potential users on its homepage. "With So.cl you can share your search and express your ideas through beautiful collages of content." When a user enters search topics, a field is instantly populated with images related to the topic to be shared with the user's contacts. They can also connect through chat and video parties.
"Video parties let you search, and quickly assemble a list of movies to view together with friends," reads the site's FAQ. "You can view any existing party collection created by any other So.cl user, or create your own, and easily chat with other So.cl users."
All posts are visible to other users by default unless they are marked private.
"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," Microsoft tells visitors on the FAQ page. "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."
For now, users can only sign in through their Facebook or Windows Live accounts. Facebook's phenomenal success has launched a slew of new sharing initiatives from the successful Twitter to the failed Google Buzz and its successor, Google+. The jury is still out on Pinterest, which claimed more than 11 million users in January.
So, is there room for more competition for what remains of the online public's increasingly limited attention span?
"This looks more like an experiment than a mainstream service," said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst at Gartner . "It's not likely consumers have the appetite for another social network."
Mark Beccue, a senior analyst at ABI Research, agrees.
"It's very hard to compete with Facebook," Beccue said. "Most others have not done very well. LinkedIn has a specific value proposition and Twitter is a different kind of deal altogether. You have to really know what you're trying to do and who you want to reach."
According to the FAQ page, So.cl is a partnership with "selected schools, including University of Washington, Syracuse University and New York University." Microsoft describes the network as a research project of its FUSE Laboratories that is focused on learning more about social search.