Microsoft isn't usually the first (or second or third) company that folks associate with social networking. But maybe the Redmondians, or at least the researchers on the Microsoft Research C2 team, aren't as unsociable as some assume.
Microsoft showed off earlier this month at its TechFest research fair a handful of new social-computing projects. One of these, codenamed "C2," shares some similarities with the FriendFeed social-network-data aggregation service -- and seemingly is on the fast track to become part of Microsoft's Windows Live client for mobile devices.
C2 was named for "Circle 2," a company that a couple of Softies were planning to start after they quit Microsoft. Instead of leaving, the researchers ended up defecting from the Windows desktop search team -- the old "Casino" group -- to Microsoft Research's social computing team.
Microsoft researcher Steve Ickman described C2 -- which Microsoft Research launched in November 2007 -- as a "social-aggregation toolkit." It is designed to work across desktop, mobile and Web clients. C2 aggregates data -- friends, call history and more -- from Windows Live Spaces, FaceBook, MySpace, Flickr, users' email and other sources.
Ickman said he'd found a way to scrape and synthesize this data using identity-matching algoritms in a way that didn't run afoul of the terms of service of these various sites. The C2 data is currently weighted heavily toward a user's Live Contacts, but also picks up profile information from non-Microsoft sites, Ickman explained.
Microsoft is set to begin trials within the company of C2 in April, Ickman said. On a banner in the C2 booth at the TechFest product fair, I noticed that the researchers were advertising that C2 would "ship with product teams," specifically "Catalyst" and WMT (Windows Media Toolkit, I'm guessing). When I asked Ickman what C2 was, he said he couldn't comment. But after asking around, I found out "Catalyst" is the codename for "Windows Live for Mobile," the set of Windows Live services that run on Windows Mobile smartphones.
(Microsoft Research technologies tend to find their way into commercial products this way: The research teams show off their developments at TechFest fairs and other meetings to Microsoft's product groups. If and when the product teams bite, the research projects begin winding their way along the commercialization track.)
Microsoft's social-computing group showed off a couple of other social-networking research projects at TechFest, too, including a plug-in for Outlook, codenamed "Salsa," that would combine public and private feed information with e-mail to put more of a human face on contact data; and an internal Wiki, known as "Micropedia," that currently catalogs all the people and projects at Microsoft. (Wouldn't that be a Microsoft watcher's goldmine!)
There aren't any external links on Microsoft's C2 that I could find to shed more light on how and when this research technology could find its way into the broader marketplace. But stay tuned.
Meanwhile, do you think Microsoft consumer customers would be interested in social-networking wares from the company? What about Microsoft's business users?