Hands-On With So.cl, Microsoft’s Social Search Site for Students
Microsoft’s new site So.cl — which combines social networking and search — is giving college students a platform to learn and collect information, news and pictures from around the web. But can the latest social network truly stand out in an already-crowded social space?
Following a series of tests at universities including the University of Washington, Syracuse University and New York University since December 2011, So.cl — pronounced “social” — officially launched over the weekend. The model allows you to create and share posts based mainly on Internet searches, but it also features many standard social features such as sharing text, photos and videos.
So.cl was first developed after Microsoft FUSE Labs staffers analyzed data from Facebook, Twitter and Bing, tracking how shared URLS spread around the web.
“We started to think about how we could create an experience around that — about making search social and making it easy to share rich, beautiful posts without having to leave your network,” said Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, on Microsoft’s research site.
So.cl is intuitive, allowing users to easily navigate the platform, follow others, set up feeds and search popular trending topics. But the site boasts many traits we’ve seen before — its layout is similar to Pinterest in that users can create boards and registration is currently limited to college students. (Remember the early days of Facebook?) Its streamlined news feed also resembles Google+’s ultra-white minimalist design.
However, So.cl still differentiates itself in various ways, such as with its fun and engaging “viewing parties” feature. Whether you decide to watch a music video or an old reel of bloopers from Two and a Half Men, users can pop in and out of chat rooms that play video footage. This opens up the floor for discussion. (Note: Since So.cl is still young, we noticed that the chatting within these rooms has been relatively quiet.)
The network also showcases profiles from users in the community, flashing their interests with pictures of, for example, their favorite cuisines and bands. This allows members to connect with new people based on topics about which they feel most passionate. However, since it’s an open community, we also saw some graphic images that might catch some people off guard, including Osama bin Laden’s alleged death photos and a GIF of a couple engaging in some intimacy. You can, of course, unfollow certain users and set up restrictions.
Although So.cl requires you to sign in via Facebook or Windows Live, the good news is that it doesn’t automatically post searches, comments or likes to your Facebook stream unless you elect to do so. But be mindful — every search you do on the site is actually public unless you indicate via its search bar that you want restrictions. Right now, you can’t limit searches to those who you follow. In order for users to truly be at ease, more privacy options will likely roll out in the near future.
What do you think about So.cl? Do you think its model is poised for success? Let us know in the comments.
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