When Microsoft released the first beta version of its Outlook Social Outlook Connector in November, the company's goals were more ambitious than its reality. On February 17, Microsoft -- with the help of partners including Facebook and MySpace -- made the Social Connector more useful.
Microsoft is releasing a refreshed beta of the social-networking add-on to Outlook, making it available for download by Office 2010 beta testers, as well as existing Office 2003 and Office 2007 customers. (Here's the download link for the refreshed Connector beta. It's 32-bit; I've asked if and when Microsoft will release a 64-bit version. Update: A Microsoft spokesperson said by the time the Connector launches, which means by June.)
In addition to enabling users to pull in contacts and other information from LinkedIn -- which was Microsoft's original Outlook Connector partner announced last year -- the new software also will allows users to choose to add MySpace and Facebook users and information into Outlook, as well. Microsoft, Facebook and MySpace have not yet announced an availability date for these two new plug-ins. Update: Microsoft officials say those two plug-ins will be out some time in the first half of 2010.
(The LinkedIn connector was not made available in November, but LinkedIn is making a beta of its provider available today, February 17, as well. Here's more on how to get the LinkedIn plug-in.)
Microsoft made a software development kit available to interested partners in November last year so they could build these kinds of plug-ins into the Social Connector. Microsoft officials are saying the final versions of the Connector and the plug-ins should be available by June 2010, the date by which the final version of Office 2010 is slated to be available for purchase.
The Social Connector appears as the people pane within Outlook. It allows users to display recent messages they've exchanged with selected contacts, meetings with those people, attachments to e-mail messages sent by those users, and activity feeds, like those currently displayed via Facebook.
Microsoft also has said it will be creating an add-in for its Windows Live service for the Social Connector. I don't believe the company has released that yet, and have not heard when it plans to do so. Update: Microsoft officials say the Windows Live Connector will be out by the time Outlook Social Connector is released in final form.
Google recently introduced its own technology for adding social-networking connectivity into its Gmail service. That technology, known as Google Buzz, has been panned widely by users for violating privacy concerns and complicating their inboxes, instead of simplifying them. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Canada is currently investigating Google Buzz for privacy-related violations.
Microsoft takes a lot of heat for pre-annoucing products and holding back from introducing them until they've conducted months of beta testing. Sounds like Google might do well to take a page from Microsoft's book on that front, given that Buzz seemingly never made it into public beta before its introduction....
One more interesting tidbit (thanks to a question from @JefTek): While Office Social Connector currently works only with client-based versions of Office, Microsoft is "working on extending this experience to the Web" via Office Web Apps. No further info or timing available so far, the spokesperson said.