Microsoft has broadened its palate of services with another foray into the social scene with the appropriately named web application While this is neither the first time that the Ballmer gang has taken some steps down this avenue nor a big shock to see another network launched from a big player, there is something definitely different about what this one has to offer. So, what is Read on and Pocket-lint will tell you. began as, and, indeed, still is, an experiment in how social search can help with learning, as dreamt up by Microsoft Fuse Labs. Set up as a social network, at its core is a social search tool with Bing behind it. The user types in a search term in and, like with a normal search engine, you can choose to get results as videos, images, web or news. The results that are relevant to your needs can then be pulled into your feed, shared and used to create a rich post made up of a montage of all the different media types. You than have a perfect, scrapbook-like answer to your question or subject area.

By default, any searches made with in are public. The idea behind that is that other users can then discover rich posts that were created under the same or similar searches and therefore save themselves a serious amount of leg work as well as discover things that perhaps they hadn’t considered. By the same token, posts can become collaborative work.

The system on is a bit more like Twitter than Facebook with followers and the followed rather than a network of friends that you already know. The idea is that you can make new relationships based on having similar interests or having searched and researched in the same subject areas.

Of course, you can still link up with your real-world friends. allows you to sign in with either your Windows Live ID or your Facebook one and will search your e-mail address book for friends already on, in the case of the former, and will allow you to invite people from Facebook manually. You’re also welcome to post anything you do on automatically in your Facebook News Feed as well, but this is not the default option.

The main method of direct communication on is encouraged through the use of video parties. These are video chats that you can host or join with multiple friends at the same time. The video parties allow you to collaborate in a live environment as well as add IM chat in an interface not unlike Skype. Using a video party, users can work on the same research project and create and edit rich posts at the same time.

Lots of people. Well, this is a social network. What did you expect?

You can mark your searches "private" to protect that information but anything else you post on can be viewed by other users as well as accessed by third parties. On the plus side, you can delete yourself almost entirely from What will remain is any anonymous bits and pieces that have already become part of a data set used and viewed by third parties.

Students. was set up and is running at a set of selected US universities, or schools, if you must. It’s there to help primarily with research and learning rather than to keep up with your mates or take a quiz. It’s not supposed to take the place of Facebook or Twitter and it never will.

Microsoft has tried to aggregate other social networking services under one MS banner before and there’s certainly something of that about With the company heavily invested in both Facebook and Skype, it’s no surprise to see elements of both in this. At the same time, there’s definitely something other going on here; whether it’s a case of repurposing the above with the in-house Bing, Windows Live and the same ideas as the People hub on Windows Phone doesn’t really matter because, ultimately, what it’s aiming to create is something altogether different. If can achieve that is another matter.

While is free, it’s not quite open for all to use just yet. There is a waiting list. Head over to the website and get yourself on it if it sounds like your cup of tea.

You might not be able to use the service just yet but you can get yourself a t-shirt or even a hoodie. You know you want to.

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