Just about a year after Google came out with blazing fanfare, bells & whistles announcing its brand new foray into social with its Google+ platform, Microsoft quietly launched its own beta version earlier this week of what is called so.cl (pronounced ‘social’). According to AllFacebook, the unofficial Facebook blog, the site has been live since late 2011 and was being tested by students in various universities, such as New York University, University of Washington and Syracuse University. Thus, the site was at first deemed an experiment and “the aim of So.cl is to combine Web browsing, search, and social-networking to allow students to share materials (search results) for academic purposes”.
While Google+ was ‘by invitation’ only during its first three months of existence (and that’s still the case for Pinterest, which doesn’t seem to impact its growth), it became open to everyone in September 2011 and had reached close to 90 million users by year’s end. Microsoft is obviously attempting a different approach here, with its hush-hush entrance in the public sphere.
So, is this a social network or a search tool?
Anyone can register very easily simply by signing in through a Facebook account, which most us have to begin with, or a Windows Live account. Then what? A search made in so.cl lets users share links although it must be said searches are powered by Bing. Users can then share media, videos, find people and information, create montages of visual web content. Sounds familiar? Indeed, it seems a lot like a crossing between Google+ and Facebook, but with a much stronger focus on search as the backbone premise of existence. In fact, unless users mark the searches as private, results and data publicly posted to So.cl will be available to other entities and individuals on the network and within Bing searches.
But the question remains unanswered: is it a social network or is it a search tool? As an experiment geared towards students, the search component comes out the strongest, but adding features such real time videos make it seem like G+ hangouts wannabes. There were many skeptics when G+ came out, and its stickiness remains questionable even today with very low engagement rates, in particular when comparing with the other big ones: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Pinterest. So what’s Microsoft So.cl’s unique selling proposition? Or said differently, what’s in it for me? The answer isn’t quite clear, which at this point represents is Achilles’ heel.
Not too late, but…
There is no such thing as arriving too late in the social media sphere, as Pinterest has showed us all, or even Instagram and Google+ in the past year. MySpace was on top of the world when it was overtaken by Facebook, which is now the 901-lb gorilla in this realm. But as things evolve so quickly, it’s those networks that will adapt to consumer behaviors and needs that will not only survive but strive in this context. Perhaps the biggest unknown is who will dominate in the mobile sphere, since there are presently very few mobile-native social media platforms that have gone mainstream, except perhaps Instagram. Is Microsoft onto something here by targeting the next generation of avid social media users, students? Is there a plan to integrate so.cl with its Windows Phone platform?
What do you think? Will you be joining so.cl or will you wait until it becomes a more prominent public network?