While most pairs of technologically-inclined eyes have been diverted by the Facebook IPO, Microsoft has quietly launched So.cl, a social 'network' that ran in beta and was tested by university students last year.
Originating from Microsoft's FUSE labs, the network is promoted as a tool created for use by students and academics for research purposes. Pronounced "social", the service has not been reported as a Facebook rival or Twitter rip-off. It is, instead, an additional layer to social networking -- and requires users to login through either a Facebook or Windows Live account.
Running on the same themes as other social media sites -- including Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and Tumblr -- the 'social search' can be used to share web pages of interest, assemble montages of media (think Pinterest as an example) and collaborate to discuss or extend the sharing of items -- So.cl may become more than simply a research-based tool. All searches are public by default.
So.Cl states in its FAQ:
"We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools.
We hope to encourage students to reimagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved, by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives."
Microsoft asserted the site is not meant to compete with Facebook or search engines last year, however, it is not closed purely to student use. In fact, with these kinds of features, Microsoft may not be aiming to compete directly with a force as large as Facebook -- but potentially become an additional layer to the social networking world that will become as popular as Pinterest eventually.
Through the combination of features that are popular on other social networking sites -- such as Pinterest's Boards feature -- and the attempt to encourage students to use it, it may be that Microsoft is taking a long-term approach to break into the social networking sphere -- with students as its first port of call.
Image credit: Screenshot C.Osborne