Outlook 2010's half-baked social networking tool

Alternatives like Gist do a better job providing one-stop access to the many social networks you may belong to

Among my LinkedIn information, my Twitter feed (@JPBruzzese), my Facebook site, and the other social and business networks that I use, a person could really catch up on all I've been up to -- if they only knew where to look. Conversely, I could get a snapshot of another person's comings and goings by peering into the same social and business networks. But it would be much easier if I could peruse the gambit of networks a person is posting to through one tool.

Microsoft has included a new feature in Outlook 2010 called the Social Connector. It can pull information from LinkedIn and MySpace, as well as connect internally with a SharePoint 2010 server to receive work-oriented updates, such as newly tagged documents and site activity. Connecting to external networks requires that you download a provider for each network; planned providers include Facebook and Windows Live.

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The Outlook Social Connector displays discreetly in the bottom of your Preview pane and allows you to see email threads, meetings, and shared documents with the person you've selected, so it's easy to track your communication and collaboration history.

The purpose of the Social Connector is clear, but the solution is only half-baked; for example, Facebook and Windows Live are missing from the list of providers, and Twitter is not included. Microsoft focused on making sure it worked with SharePoint 2010 (it does) because that is where Microsoft sees the connector shining for corporate use.

After working with Outlook 2010 and SharePoint 2010 together, I agree 100 percent it makes sense to have a one-stop shop for your users to merge the experience where they communicate (through Outlook) and collaborate (with SharePoint). Third-party developers can also connect and feed social streams from line-of-business apps or integrate their own services into Outlook through the Social Connector. But few people only use internal business social networking tools, so Social Connector remains somewhat of an island.

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