Microsoft claims its socl.com launch was an accident. But the company has a lot of solid reasons to explore social networking beyond its relationship with Facebook.
Microsoft already owns a minority stake in Facebook. That's
paid some dividends for Redmond, mostly in the form of new social-networking
features for Bing and a new channel for its recently acquired Skype.
But investment in Facebook aside, will Microsoft consider
building a social network of its very own?
That was an idea floating around the blogosphere over the
weekend, after Microsoft posted what looked like a social-networking
project-code-named "Tulalip"-onto the Web URL socl.com
"With Tulalip you can find what you need and Share what you know easier than
ever," read the page's opening text, above a series of what looked like
Microsoft promptly yanked the page, replacing it with a note
suggesting the whole thing was an
accident: "Socl.com is an internal design project from a team in Microsoft
Research which was mistakenly published to the Web ... We didn't mean to,
Microsoft has some good reasons to explore social networking
as a new project avenue. For starters, its archrival Google recently launched
Google+, a social network meant to
out-Facebook Facebook. Microsoft battles Google in a number of areas,
particularly online search and mobile operating systems.
It seems inevitable that, if Google were to move into the social
networking realm, Microsoft would consider methods for blunting its
For the moment, it seems the best way for Microsoft to
achieve that aim is to leverage its existing relationship with Facebook-a
relationship that's certainly deepened in recent weeks and months, with the
aforementioned Bing features and Skype integration. When users query Bing for
specific people, for example, the search engine can offer Facebook information
on the results page. If they're traveling to a new city, such as Paris, Bing
will tell them which Facebook friends live there. This "infusing the emotional"
into queries, as Bing Director Stefan Weitz once told eWEEK, is Microsoft's
strategy for differentiating its search engine from Google.
However, Microsoft's minority stake also means precious
little control over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he ever decides the
relationship with Redmond has gone a little stale.
In light of that, it seems inevitable that a company as
large and ostensibly forward-thinking as Microsoft would consider how to best
establish a branded social-networking presence beholden to nobody. Nonetheless,
Microsoft still needs to tread carefully-Google+
is apparently enjoying an early-adopter surge, and Facebook remains the
dominant force in social networking. Hence, this weird accident (or "accident")
with Tulalip-it's not outside the realm of possibility that Microsoft would do
something like this, solely to gauge the inevitable reaction.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter