Late last year, Microsoft introduced its very tepid approach to social, called So.cl. Back in December the veils were first lifted from the project, and Microsoft was taking Facebook’s early approach by going after college kids and using interest graphs to help them build connections. Back then, it was only available to a handful of college kids around the country, and now it’s open to the masses. Even still, don’t hedge your bets on its long term success.
So.cl promises all of the tenants we’ve come to expect in our social applications: social search, multimedia experiences, and interest discovery. But none of it works, unless “works” is widely open to interpretation.
After connecting So.cl with your Facebook or Windows Live account, you’re launched into a very confusing service. The feed is full of information but none of it seems human. You’ll see Wikipedia entries, image search results, and “riffs.” The river, which is where all content is created and viewed, is more or less just a location for users’ searches conducted within So.cl – which is a really boring way to make a social network. The new social features from Bing do a better, cleaner job of connecting the two.
So the feed fails to engage interest or make a ton of sense, and that probably has something to do with not knowing who these people are. You automatically follow the “most popular” users on the site, and without the context of knowing these people at all, their activity is nonsensical at best, annoying at worst.
Sharing anything yourself is also incredibly unintuitive. You’re supposed to start by searching for something you’re interested in. I typed in “rafting.” From there, I get links to Rafting America, the Wikipedia entry for rafting, Rafting.com, and other similar sites. And then, in order to post something personally, you click the “add to post” icon, but clicking on the link itself will take you outside So.cl. You can pull in images to posts as well, but it’s all really strange and impersonal. And even if you only search for something, it’s posted to the feed. Making posting in and of itself sort of pointless. Also worth noting is that sometimes, I don’t want to know what other people are using the service to search for, case in point:
The biggest question surrounding So.cl is why? It’s a Microsoft project, but Microsoft already has a social plus search project – Bing. We just got done looking at the makeover it’s undergone, which is a pretty thorough Facebook-ification of the service. What’s the point of So.cl? The graphics are lacking, the interface confusing, and the community leaves much to be desired.
Microsoft clearly never intended for So.cl to take on Facebook. If you’re using the Facebook login to create new user accounts, you aren’t seriously considering become a viable competitor or alternative service – or even sitting pretty in the number three or four spot. And So.cl is likely going to be some sort of Bing side-project that will feed into its social amenities. Unless you change your settings, all your searches are going to be publicly posted to So.cl if you keep the application installed, making it easy to pull social info over.