On December 4, Microsoft's FuSE team took the wraps off the redesigned user experience of its Socl social-search project and opening up the beta to anyone who wants to test drive it.
Microsoft first went public with the Socl project in December 2011. Originally available to invited testers only, Microsoft social network has been in testing primarily among Microsoft employees and students in information and design schools at a few universities.
Microsoft officials have described Socl as a kind of mash-up of social-networking and search that is designed to get the learning communities to start thinking about how to use collaboration technologies in new ways. And according to the Softies and contrary to popular rumors, Socl is not an attempt to take on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler or Pinterest.
"The way people were using Socl was different than we designed it," said Lili Cheng, General Manager of FuSE (Future Social Experiences) Labs. "Our idea is to democratize design and make beautiful posts."
Socl brings image search to prominence. A new navigation bar helps users create posts more simply and to find elements like common interest pages. (An image of the redesigned Socl site, provided by Microsoft, is embedded above in this post.) Users can create "parties," where participants can create playlists, watch videos and chat together from inside the site.
Cheng said that in the past year, the target audience for Socl broadened beyond university students. That said, Microsoft is not making a concerted effort to target Socl at new or different demographics. Socl is still a research project with no public timetable as to when or if Microsoft will attempt to commercialize it in its entirety or piece parts.
"Search for most people is still mostly about the blue links. Images are secondary," Cheng said. Socl reverses the priorities. And one result is people who speak different languages find they can still communicate, Cheng said.
Speaking of blue, here's my first attempt at going Socl:
(And yes, the wig is from my disguise bag. In case you were wondering.)
To try out the new update, users should go to http://beta.so.cl and authenticate with Facebook or Microsoft ID.