Microsoft Launches Social Search Network

If Google+ had been around when Mark Zuckerberg was still at Harvard, the resulting network might have looked something like So.Cl, a project by the FUSE Labs in Microsoft Research that combines social networking with video chatrooms and search. Launched in beta in 2011, the site opened to the public over the weekend.

Much like Facebook’s founders, Microsoft’s research branch first tested its network in schools. So.Cl partnered with several colleges including University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University to see how students could use the site for the purposes of conducting research. So.Cl (pronounced “social”) is now open for anyone to use.

At the heart of the network is the search bar. On So.Cl you can look up a word, choose a picture, and even create a photo montage to share with your friends. The layout is somewhere between a status update on Facebook or Google+ and an image board on Pinterest.

Another feature that So.Cl shares with Google+ is the video chartroom. On So.Cl, users can host a Video Party to watch and discuss videos with their friends or like-minded strangers through instant message. Unlike Google+, So.Cl’s parties focus exclusively on watching online videos with other users rather than talking to them via webcam.

So.Cl recently introduced an Explorer page where users can discover the video and photo montages that other users have created.

The idea is to tap into the zeitgeist of popular search topics and content all over the world. All posts (and searches) are public unless you opt out of sharing them. The privacy policy makes it clear that the information can (and will) be shared with third parties.

Because So.Cl connects through Facebook, users can share their posts on the larger network, as well as on Twitter. “ is not meant to replace existing full-featured search and social networking tools,” explained company representatives on the FAQ page. “It is an experimental research project using a minimal set of features which help combine search with the social network for the purpose of learning.”

At least for now.