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Is this the next Facebook? Microsoft unveils so.cl social network

Microsoft so.cl.JPG

May 21, 2012: Microsoft's experimental research project so.cl -- a social network meant to merge search and research -- has opened up to the public.Microsoft

Microsoft has quietly launched its own social network -- but the company swears it isn’t a Facebook competitor.

You can even use your Facebook account to log in to it. 

The So.cl experimental research project combines social networking and search, according to Microsoft. It launched 4 months ago in conjunction with the University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University. But it only opened to the public at large this weekend.

And the Windows giant swears it isn't meant to compete with "Big Blue."

'We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook.'

- Microsoft

“We expect students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools,” Microsoft said. “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.”

In other words, the project is meant to complement Microsoft’s competitors.

So.cl distinguishes itself by focusing on learning and education. The company says its meant to make it easier for students to collaborate, sharing the results of Internet searches and the photos, videos and stories they uncover. The layout resembles an amalgamation of existing social networks, taking cues from Google+, Facebook, Twitter and more.

You can follow other users or interest, noted the Washington Post, and a "bookmarklet" function adds a "Share on So.cl" button to your web browser making it a cinch to collaborate and share searches with others.

“What we’ve seen in the last year or two is innovation in the way schools are teaching and learning from students, creating new programs to study how information spreads, motivates learning, and creates expertise,” said Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, in a statement about the project.

“In So.cl, there’s a shift in emphasis toward improving collaboration and connecting with other people around common interests,” said Shelly Farnham, a FUSE Labs researcher working on the project.

The project was originally launched in conjunction with the three universities. It was created by Microsoft’s Fuse labs, a “skunkworks” style development lab that is exploring how social information can change and enhance sharing on the web.