Information is leaking out about a new social network called "SOCL". What makes it different from the other bazillion social networks that are starting up, perhaps trying to cut into Facebook's commercial success, is that is appears to be Microsoft's own internal, corporate, social network. And it may be soon unleashed on the general public.
What do we know about it?
It is said to come from Microsoft's Fuse Labs. and first surfaced back in July. J.B. at Fusible spotted that Microsoft had bought the domain "socl.com" but it showed a service called Tulalip, a social networking integration site, which let you log in via Facebook and Twitter. It claimed, "with Tulalip you can Find what you need and Share what you know easier than ever".
Then it was promptly taken down, replaced with a message, "Thanks for stopping by. 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, honest."
Microsoft issued a statement:
"Socl.com is an internal design project from one of Microsoft's research teams which was mistakenly published to the web."
Socl.com is currently showing a 404 error, but a quick DNS Lookup shows it is active, and pointing towards Microsoft's DNS servers.
Surely between Twitter, and Facebook, and MySpace (to a lesser degree...) there aren't any niches left, or at least there aren't any niches big enough to warrant a big commercial venture to try and fill...?
Tech blog, The Verge, got a sneak peek at SOCL and called it a mix of "search, discovery, and, go figure, a social network". It turns searching with Bing into a social experience, instead of statuses the system uses your search terms to alert your friends what is on your mind.
Mashable's Pete Cashmore recently said on CNN, that the real power of Google+ is the ability to "+1" a webpage. That little now-ubiquitous button (even on this very site!) is giving Google enormous amounts of statistical information about what you really "like" and what is truly relevant to you.
And by "relevant", I mean what you really care about. That information is directly translatable into targeted advertising which is Google's bread and butter. If you like my website, expect to see the number of adverts you see about aircraft, technology and cars rise slightly.
SOCL could be Microsoft's first steps into a similar initiative to tune its search-and-advertising algorithms, which it could do on a person-by-person basis if searching (with Bing) became the central part of the social network experience, instead of statuses.
It will be interesting how Microsoft goes forward with the site. Rumours say it will start like Google+, with an invite-only beta. However, as Microsoft and Facebook are partners, I wouldn't be surprised if this is actually a tech demo to wow some people in Mark Zuckerberg's digital fortress and show that putting Bing behind Facebook search wouldn't just improve finding your long-lost Auntie, but also could be used to improve and augment the entire social experience.
Microsoft have done enough to impress and tease, the ball is in Zuck's court, but if history is anything to go by, Microsoft rarely knows when to quit.