I am a big fan of the Scientific Method and the concept of experimentation to prove, or sometimes disprove, a hypothesis. So, I am not going to criticize Microsoft for their recent experiment in social networking they call So.cl (pronounced social). However, I will say that I am curious as to exactly what hypothesis they are testing with this social endeavor.
A new way to learn
Reading the So.cl FAQ reveals that Microsoft's idea is that this nascent social network is designed to be used by students as a learning tool. Its stated function is to provide a place where students can share and learn from each other. The one aspect that raises an eyebrow from me is this paragraph from the FAQ.
Unless you mark it as "private", your search results, and any other data you post to So.cl may be viewed by all other So.cl users. In addition, we will make data that was publicly posted on So.cl broadly available for use by other entities and individuals.
Under the blanket concept of students and learning, I am not saying that making all searches public is a bad thing, but it does limit what the So.cl service should be used for. As Microsoft makes clear, So.cl is not designed to be a replacement for Facebook or Twitter, instead it is a supplement with the niche mission of serving student-collaborative learning.
What is the future?
So, I get the idea, and on the whole it sounds like a reasonable, if elusive, aspiration. However, I am not sure there is really a market for such a thing, which is perhaps why Microsoft released So.cl in such a stealthy manner. Do you think Microsoft is on to something with its So.cl service? Is there a market for a separate collaborative student-learning social network? Is So.cl destined to be a perpetual experiment that never graduates to a real product? Let's collaborate on it and form a consensus.
Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.