Microsoft vs. Google: This time, it's social (networking)

So.cl, Microsoft's social search engine, isn't competing with Facebook; instead, it's squaring up against its old rival Google

I know. It's been Facebook Facebook Facebook all the friggin' time lately. The IPO was a bit of a flop, Mark Zuckerberg took off his hoodie long enough to change his relationship status in public, yadda yadda yadda.

I totally understand if you've filled your quota for news about social networks for the next six months. But I'm afraid I have some news you may want to sit down for.

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Actually I have three bits of news:

  1. Yes, there is a new social network in town.
  2. It has a goofy name.
  3. It's from Microsoft.

Few items hit the Cringely trifecta quite so perfectly. So forgive me, but I feel compelled.

This week Microsoft ever so quietly launched the beta version of So.cl, the rumored "Facebook killer" first reported on here last November.

So.cl, in case you are wondering, is pronounced "social." Apparently there's some kind of secret tax on vowels that Microsoft is trying to avoid. Though some sites are reporting that So.cl is open only to crazy college kids, I was able to not only sign up and but invite 10 others and post an open invite on my Facebook page. Apparently nobody at Microsoft reads this blog or they'd know better.

Interestingly, So.cl isn't a competitor to Facebook. Microsoft is quite cleverly trying to leverage the world's largest social network by creating a Facebook app that lets you log in. You can also log in via your Windows Live account, at least until it turns into Windows Dead.

No, So.cl is really a competitor to Google Plus. It's essentially a social network built around the Bing search engine with a few extras thrown in. Or as Microsoft puts it:

So.cl is an experiment in open search. That means your searches on So.cl are viewable by other So.cl users and will also be available to third parties.

Click on Everyone in your So.cl feed, and you see what everyone else on So.Cl is searching for: terms, images, videos, and so on. In other words, it's like Googling -- er, Binging with the entire So.cl world peering over your shoulder. That has all kinds of implications, many of them a little scary.

So.cl lets you designate each search as public or private, clear your history, or delete your account entirely. Still, I'm not sure I should know that someone named Patrick L. is searching for websites about fibromyalgia or that Jon J. searched for "marijuana in California" or that Angel Eyes enjoys watching videos of prepubescent girls singing Adele songs. I know we live in the information age, but that's more information than I was looking for.

Otherwise, it's like most other social nets with a few key differences. Instead of a Like or a +1 button, So.cl uses a sideways smiley face emoticon. You can share, comment on, or tag anyone's posts, and you can also "riff" -- or call up similar results. You can share stuff from other sites by dragging the So.cl button to your browser bookmarks bar and clicking on it from those third-party sites. You can quickly make collages of images by clicking on search results, though I have no idea what you're supposed to do with these.

So.cl also provides video "parties" where you watch a constant stream of videos and get to see who else is wasting their time on So.cl in precisely the same manner.

As far as social nets go, So.cl is not bad. It integrates search far better than Google has, without the need to bolt a separate social network onto the side a la Google+. It's less frenetic and needy than Facebook, which always desperately wants you to friend someone somewhere. It's richer than Twitter while also offering a less cluttered interface, no mean trick.

But there's one flaw So.cl cannot overcome: It's yet another social network. That's kind of like moving to a new town and finding a Wal-Mart, a McDonalds, and a Starbucks on every corner. How many more of these things do any of us truly need?

Can you stomach one more social network? Share your enthusiasm or lack thereof below, or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Microsoft vs. Google: This time, it's social (networking)," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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