Last week Microsoft launched a new network called so.cl – pronounced ‘social’ – which is being discussed all over the web. It is described as "an experimental research project, developed by Microsoft's FUSE Labs, focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning."
I haven't yet spent much time with it myself but here are some very rudimentary thoughts based on what my initial reaction and what I’ve been reading on the web, including So.cl's FAQ page
Is it the next Facebook?
So.cl starts by offering Facebook credentials as a log-in choice but not Twitter, replaced by Windows Live. Microsoft has an investment in Facebook so it wouldn’t want to create a competitor to Facebook. It says – "We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools," Microsoft said. "We hope to encourage students to re-imagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved, by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives."
How's it different?
Fox news says “So.cl distinguishes itself by focusing on learning and education. The company says its meant to make it easier for students to collaborate, sharing the results of Internet searches and the photos, videos and stories they uncover. The layout resembles an amalgamation of existing social networks, taking cues from Google+, Facebook, Twitter and more”
I'm really not sure how different it is from the new Bing, which also includes social features now.
How does it matter?
Initial experiments before the public launch suggest it works well with students. In the context of workplace learning too I think So.cl would have some impacts in informal learning. Most organizations are currently trying to figure out how to ‘make’ social and informal learning happen more effectively. So.cl may just be a great tool for that. So.cl offers a space for new thinking in facilitating informal learning with social network technology tools.