Microsoft dives into social networking pool with Socl

Looking a lot like Pinterest, Microsoft throws open the doors to new network

Think you need another social network? Well, Microsoft thinks you do.

That's why the software company on Thursday opened up the doors to Socl, a new social network.

Socl, which is pronounced Social, quietly launched in May. Coming out of Microsoft's Research FUSE Labs, the new network started as an experiment in social search with a focus on students, according to the company.

During a closed test of the site, Socl has evolved into a place where people share common interests.

Much like the increasingly popular Pinterest, the site's homepage shows a changing mixture of users' posts that range from images and pictures about gaming, religion, baking, animals and music.

"We appreciate your continued feedback, which is helping us to gain more insight every day and improve how we can all communicate, learn and share our everyday lives," wrote Fuse Labs in a blog post. "We've been busy redesigning Socl to match how you're using it, and starting today, we'd like you to give the new Socl a spin at www.so.cl and let us know what you think."

With Socl, Microsoft is trying to become part of the social networking world, enabling people to sign on via Facebook and bring their friends along with them.

"Socl is an open social network where people connect around posts and choose to follow people, interests, or both," the blog noted. "While you may discover some of your Facebook friends on Socl, you will more likely discover new people or topics you'd like to follow. Of course, you can invite your friends to join you on Socl by sharing posts to Facebook, Twitter or email or simply by sending them an invitation. If you choose to sign in using Facebook, your Facebook friends on Socl will also be easily visible from your People View on your Me Page."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said Microsoft is late to social networking and has a huge mountain to climb if it expects to become a significant player.

"Most of what I see on there now is either people or companies posting what look to be straight ads," said Olds. "It's like going to a party and finding out that it's a multi-level marketing recruiting session."

Microsoft, he added, should have simply bought Pinterest instead of launching a site so similar to the popular social network.

As for Facebook and Google+, Olds said. "I'm not sure they've even noticed it enough to laugh at it."

However, Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, has more hope for the fledgling network.

"People aren't screaming for a new social network, but recall when Apple created the iPod, folks weren't screaming for a new player then either," he said. "Folks, particularly in this area, have proven to be pretty fickle. Picture-based social sites are still relatively new and that provides an opportunity for someone to come in and make ground."

If Socl takes off, it could do a lot of good for Microsoft's image, taking it from your father's software company to a real Internet player, noted Enderle.

"It is far easier to set up and customize than Pinterest or Facebook were, and, as a Microsoft product user, it appears already partially connected to my interests," he added. "It actually looks interesting, but I haven't played with it enough to know if it is compelling yet."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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