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Microsoft’s anticipated social network So.cl has arrived, but don’t expect it to be the Google+ or Facebook challenger it was widely rumored to be — at least not yet.

So.cl, pronounced social, is being billed as a site for student collaboration and information gathering. For now, Microsoft is calling it just an “experimental research project” and only making it available to students studying information and design at the University of Washington, Syracuse University and New York University.

So.cl is “designed to give students the ability to network with peers, share useful information quickly, and build their own pages that collect information from both inside and outside the classroom — in a sense, transforming the web and social networks into the new classroom,” Microsoft said in a blog post on the launch of the site.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what’s it do? Well, simply put, it’s a social search site. The site features a search experience, powered by Bing, that displays search result data but also encourages students to share links as they search. Students can also build their own communities around subject matters or topics of interest.

So.cl’s most unique feature, however, is the rich post, which is like a meta-status update and can include multiple links and images that are assembled together in a visual montage. Rich posts (pictured below), just like status updates, can be commented on, but they can also be tagged and embedded elsewhere on the web.

And then there’s “video party” (pictured above), a group video-sharing feature that also ties in with the site’s search experience. The So.cl user can start a video party to search and collect a list of YouTube videos, and then view those videos together with friends. Video parties are saved as collections and users can view each others’ collections.

So what we have here is a slight twist on the social network that caters to students who are already social media-obsessed. Microsoft is certainly playing up the student angle, but that strikes me as a temporary and manufactured hook to get people to see So.cl as something other than a generic social network.

So.cl is a product of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs.


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