So.cl goes pub.lic
Microsoft has opened up its fledgling social-search site to the general public.
So.cl, which is pronounced 'social', had previously only been accessible to university students in the US. When launching the site in December 2011, So.cl was described as an 'experimental research project' developed by Microsoft Research's FUSE Labs division to help students studying social media. It is unclear why Microsoft has now decided to allow everyone to join - prompting speculation that it may have bigger ambitions in the social-search space.
Discuss search results on So.cl
The primary purpose of So.cl is to allow people to share and discuss their favourite search results. Using an interface that is reminiscent of Facebook and Google+, combined with the collage format popularised by the likes of Pinterest, the site is basically a new social media platform. Microsoft has been keen to stress, however, that it is designed to work alongside other platforms rather than replace them. Users can register with their Facebook login details and even choose to cross-post So.cl content to Facebook.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, only searches conducted on Microsoft's search engine Bing can be uploaded to the site. All content posted on So.cl is public by default, although private posting settings are available. Some commentators have suggested Microsoft may use this data to improve its search results by, for example, increasing the rankings of pages that attract the most engagement.
Speaking last December, Shelly Farnham, a FUSE Labs researcher working on So.cl, downplayed suggestions that this was a priority. She said: "There have been social-search projects in the past but they've generally focused much more on how to improve the experience of search. In So.cl, there's a shift in emphasis toward improving collaboration and connecting with other people around common interests."
Adrian Mursec, senior developer at theEword, commented: "Microsoft is keeping quiet about why So.cl is going public. The first thing that hits you on So.cl is that it relies heavily on other social networks, so suggestions that it is in direct competition with Facebook and Google+ seem wide of the mark. But despite claiming that they just want to help students, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft uses the data to learn more about the convergence between search and social, and perhaps even to influence Bing results.