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(Pocket-lint) - Microsoft has broadened its palate of services with another foray into the social scene with the appropriately named web application So.cl. 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 So.cl? Read on and Pocket-lint will tell you.

What is So.cl?

So.cl 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 So.cl 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.


What makes So.cl social?

By default, any searches made with in So.cl 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.

Where are my friends?

The system on So.cl 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 So.cl 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. So.cl 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 So.cl, 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 So.cl automatically in your Facebook News Feed as well, but this is not the default option.

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What’s a video party?

The main method of direct communication on So.cl 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.

Who can see my data?

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 So.cl can be viewed by other So.cl users as well as accessed by third parties. On the plus side, you can delete yourself almost entirely from So.cl. What will remain is any anonymous bits and pieces that have already become part of a data set used and viewed by third parties.

Who is So.cl aimed at?

Students. So.cl 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.

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Old tricks from Microsoft?

Microsoft has tried to aggregate other social networking services under one MS banner before and there’s certainly something of that about So.cl. 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 So.cl can achieve that is another matter.

Where do I sign up?

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

Get the T-shirt

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

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Writing by Dan Sung.