Looks like Steve Ballmer has a new product to hype. While the rest of us were recovering from our post-IPO hangovers, Microsoft decided that the weekend after Facebook went public was the perfect time to discreetly launch a new social network. It’s called So.cl, and no, we have no idea how you’re supposed to pronounce that. (Oh wait, apparently it’s “social.” So… it’s a new social network called “social.” Clever!)
According to the site, So.cl “is an experimental research project, developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.” All of the things you search for in So.cl immediately become public, which means you probably won’t want to use it as a Google alternative, lest other users see that you searched “weird rash on arm” or something.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that So.cl looks pretty much exactly like Google’s struggling social network Google+. Both the UIs and functionality are basically the same, from sharing and commenting on rich media posts right down to the group video chat option.
Both networks also attempt to combine social and search, but Microsoft’s is geared explicitly towards learning, which makes it a little more useful–especially for students and teachers–than Google+. “We hope to encourage students to reimagine how our everyday communication and learning tools can be improved, by researching, learning and sharing in their everyday lives,” reads So.cl’s FAQ page.
Microsoft is upfront about the fact that So.cl will not be a Facebook killer: “We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks,” reads the site. So.cl even uses Facebook Connect as your login (of course, you can login with Windows Live, but that’s only helpful for the five people on earth who have a Windows Live account).
The site has already formally partnered with major universities–including NYU. We’re sure there are many ed-tech startups quaking in their boots right about now.