Microsoft Research’s Socl Social Network Gets A Little More Real

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Back in July, Microsoft “accidentally” published a teaser for a social network being worked on by Microsoft Research. Socl.com appeared to be focused on search and sharing, but what little they showed was quickly pulled down and we didn’t hear anything more — until today, when The Verge posted some new details after apparently being given early access by the Socl team.

To duplicate their description in detail would be tedious and unnecessary(likewise reposting their screenshots), but the short version appears to be that it has a familiar layout (and color scheme) with a central feed, tags and feeds on the left, and invites and video chat on the right. Interestingly, it’s not designed as a “full” social network, and communication between users is not emphasized; instead, collaborative consumption is the focus.

There’s a video-sharing ability, by which you can watch videos “with” other people, though your interactions are limited to a chatroom beside the video. Ideal for comparing your favorite cat videos, but without support for something like Hulu or Netflix, I fear a feature like this would be rarely used. Naturally as an early-stage project it would not have deep integration or licensing agreements, but it seems a relevant criticism when you consider the use cases of a “video party” feature.

The other collaborative piece is the big search bar at the top: “What are you searching for?” Presumably you would put “tea downtown Seattle” and it brings up both rich search results and propagates the question, suitably altered for human consumption, to your network of friends. “Devin is looking for tea near downtown Seattle. What would you recommend?” That sort of thing. Crowdsourcing questions works like this sometimes — in fact, I had a situation where it would have been handy not 10 minutes ago — but there are already tools to accomplish this, and it’s not clear what Socl adds to the equation.

Note that this is not meant to be a replacement for Facebook; in fact, it hooks into the lists API so you can send shares and queries to and from Facebook friends. It’s more of a loose network for sharing whatever you’re doing or looking for. Naturally this role is already filled for most people in one of a dozen ways. The project is supposed to be launching in private beta fairly soon (no time table was given), but it seems like it its work cut out for it in convincing people to add yet another network to their collection. As it is there isn’t much functionality that isn’t partially or fully present in other networks, or couldn’t be added easily.

The “Tulalip” branding seems to have disappeared, and the Socl logo looks final-ish, but reports that Microsoft in fact purchased social.com would indicate that was the actual final branding. No doubt this will be cleared up soon.