So.cl, once an experimental research project from Microsoft exclusively for students, is now open to all Web users. The site, pronounced "social," combines social networking and search to promote learning.
By pairing social networking with search—which sounds similar to Google's goal for Google+— So.cl helps create rich posts by assembling montages of visual Web content to help people find and share interesting Web pages, "in the way students do when they work together," says Microsoft. To encourage interaction and collaboration, So.cl provides rich media sharing, and real time sharing of videos via "video parties."
So.cl search is powered by Bing for search result data. "As students work together, they often look for the same content, and discover new shared interests by sharing results. These results can be Web pages, images, or videos found through Bing," says a Microsoft spokesperson. "We see this trend today on many social networks, such as Twitter, where shared links spread virally and amplify popular content. So.cl experiments with this concept by letting you easily share links as you search."
Microsoft expects students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools. In fact, So.cl uses Facebook authentication, which means a Facebook account can be used to to log in, and a user's name and profile picture from Facebook appear in So.cl. "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," writes Microsoft in a FAQ page on So.cl.
So the question is, once again, should PR pros be quick to jump on to the next burgeoning social network? For now, it's a mixed answer. "So.cl appears to combine elements from Bing (search), Facebook (news feed), Google+ (video hangouts) and Pinterest (visuals) to create a new social experience," says Lori Russo, managing director at Stanton Communications. "Microsoft says the service is aimed at students, but as PR professionals we cannot dismiss it out-of-hand as irrelevant to our clients simply because of that—remember that other social network that started out at Harvard? I think we need to be on top of it, monitor how our clients’ audiences are using it, and determine if and how it is appropriate to jump in."
Jonathan Kopp, global director at Ketchum Digital, says that at this early stage of development, So.cl appears to be more of an interesting experiment than a fully-baked offering. "We will continue to monitor and explore So.cl, but it's premature to recommend including it in the marcoms mix," says Kopp.
While So.cl can be used by the general public, Microsoft states that its goal is to focus on learning communities. If that fits your brand, consider jumping in early. But at the very least, keep an eye on it.
Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg