An introductory page showing newcomers how to use the Microsoft "So.cl" research experiment.

Microsoft is talking for the first time publicly about its “So.cl” network today, explaining what it is — and what it isn’t — and expanding the private beta of the service to more students and academics.

Microsoft researcher Shelly Farnham, FUSE GM Lili Cheng.

Based on a sneak peek yesterday at the offices of the Microsoft Research lab behind the project, GeekWire can confirm that So.cl is not meant to be a Facebook killer, at least not in its current form.

But it is an interesting project that’s designed to bridge the worlds of Internet search and social networking to help people learn informally from their friends and colleagues.

And it’s easy to see how Microsoft’s product teams could incorporate elements of So.cl into their work.

First things first: “So.cl is a research experiment,” says Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, the Microsoft Research group behind the project.

That means it’s not designed to be released as a product on a wide scale. The group has been testing the service with about 150 students in information and design schools at the University of Washington, Syracuse University and New York University. Starting today, the service will be opened up to as many as 1,000 academics and students by invitation, to make it easier to test in classrooms next semester.

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Cheng says project grew out of a recognition that tools like Internet search were originally created before social networks became pervasive. The idea is to integrate search more deeply into the social learning experience, as a window into the larger online world.

“Students are just amazing in the way that they’re using everyday tools — social networks and search and Wikipedia — to learn, and we think that over time education is going to change,” she says. “We’ve been thinking, how might you combine these things in better ways to support the things that students do every day?”

The current version of So.cl supports written status updates, with a news feed similar to Facebook and other social networks. Its following mechanism is similar to Twitter. But a major difference is the way it incorporates web search, allowing users to search for images and links in Microsoft’s Bing search engine and quickly assemble them into a post just by clicking on them.

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The idea is to help students quickly share what they’re discovering online, as a way of learning from each other.

“If you think about the way people are innovating now, it’s by learning from each other and building on each other’s work through the Internet,” said Shelly Farnham, a Microsoft researcher working on the So.cl project, drawing parallels to do-it-yourself online communities. “You can really accelerate learning and collaboration through this sharing process.

Other features include a video party feature, letting users watch a video together from their respective computers and chat about it in an accompanying pane. For now, at least, the service focuses entirely on letting people aggregate web content, and doesn’t include some basic features such as uploading a picture into a post.

The service is online at so.cl, and while the beta is expected to remain tightly controlled, the home page includes an introductory video. So.cl uses Facebook as a mechanism for logging in and requesting access to the beta.

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Comments

  • Anonymous

    a “stalker search engine”. 

    New MS tool , the social search engine that spys on others you know. Society has naturally created a PRIVATE lifestyle, it took thousands and 
    THOUSANDS of years to become private, yet, MS has decided this is wrong
    and they want to dig into your life deeper.

    Its illegal and if I find my profile on their search I will do everything in my POWER, to ensure it is REMOVED!

    Whomever created this must have no friends. The kids who use social networks at school are kids who have no friends… The cool kids do not use these tools of the 90′s. They are outdated and not cool anymore.

    Plus who wants to use a search that looks into your PRIVATE life?
    Another tool and more data for nexis….

    [BOYCOTT MICROSOFT] 
    for releasing software that damages society; Imprison board members and owners for software crimes against humanity.

    • Guest

      1) Take off your tinfoil hat
      2) Get some new material

    • Anonymous

      STFU

  • http://twitter.com/lilich Lili Cheng

    thanks Todd!!!  ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/lilich Lili Cheng

    we’ve had some questions from people who’d like invites, so for now, the site is invite only for students and academics, and just signup and we’ll add more people in when we’re ready.  thank for all the interest!

    • http://freedom2blog.com Jatin Sapra

      Hope to get an invite soon. 

      -Student :P

    • Guest

      A lot of interesting ideas there. I realize it’s an MSR project and you operate under a somewhat different mandate. But MS could use a social hit. Why didn’t this just get put on Azure, opened up to the world under a beta tag, and see where it went? The fact that it leverages an FB sign-on should reduce FB’s potential competitive concerns, and it also allows users to instantly take advantage of it. A private restricted beta otoh, gives other social networks plenty of time to copy and implement the best features. What am I missing?

    • Vikram

      FuseLabs rock, first time in the social networking we got a good app to colloborate. good work Lilli

  • Supporter

    Nice work Lili and crew!  Ignore the haters, keep spiraling out!!

  • Supporter

    Nice work Lili and crew!  Ignore the haters, keep spiraling out!!

  • saqib

    nice work… waiting for invite

  • http://teusje.wordpress.com/ teusje
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