Microsoft’s research-oriented FUSE Labs launched a new, student-oriented social network last weekend. While very much an experimental product at this point, So.cl (pronounced “social”) does highlight once more that the Redmond-based software giant is keen to keep its boffins thinking outside the box in order to find the next big thing, first.
College Students Only
The new site www.So.cl which combines social networking and search, gives college students a platform to learn and collect information, news and pictures from around the web. So.cl is intuitive, allowing users to easily navigate the platform, follow others, set up feeds and search popular trending topics. But the site boasts many traits we’ve seen before — its layout is similar to Pinterest in that users can create boards and registration is currently limited to college students. Its streamlined news feed also resembles Google+’s ultra-white minimalist design.
“We started to think about how we could create an experience around that — about making search social and making it easy to share rich, beautiful posts without having to leave your network,” said Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, on Microsoft’s research site. “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”
The network also showcases profiles from users in the community, flashing their interests with pictures of, for example, their favorite cuisines and bands. This allows members to connect with new people based on topics about which they feel most passionate. However, since it’s an open community, we also saw some graphic images that might catch some people off guard, including Osama bin Laden’s alleged death photos and a GIF of a couple engaging in some intimacy. You can, of course, unfollow certain users and set up restrictions.
Although So.cl requires you to sign in via Facebook or Windows Live, the good news is that it doesn’t automatically post searches, comments or likes to your Facebook stream unless you elect to do so. But be mindful — every search you do on the site is actually public unless you indicate via its search bar that you want restrictions. Right now, you can’t limit searches to those who you follow. In order for users to truly be at ease, more privacy options will likely roll out in the near future.
Social Network Layer
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.”