First Impressions: Microsoft So.cl

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
With the fast and furious press coverage that surrounds the public release of any major social network these days, Microsoft opened up their experimental So.cl for general signups yesterday.  The service had previously been open for student use since December at several Universities (including my alma-matter the University of Washington).  As a pretty avid user of social media and as a former Microsoft fanboy, I spent part of yesterday taking the product for a spin to get a sense of how it worked.

Strangely enough, I was able to signup for So.cl by using my account for a competing (complimentary?) social network (read: Facebook).  As far as I can tell, the extent of the Facebook integration stops at my imported profile picture and friends list.  I thought it odd that even while my college was part of the So.cl's early beta, I was still the first of my 600+ Facebook friends to signup for the service.  At this time there is also no ability to link a So.cl profile with other social networks aside from Facebook or Windows Live.

After importing my Facebook settings, I was prompted to choose some relevant interests.  Instead of using the interests I have already specified on my Facebook account (the one I just connected to the service), So.cl instead suggested a high-level smattering of generic interets like "Music" and "Food".

After deselecting some of the default options, I attempted to "follow" some of these topics unsuccessfully.   Unfortunately, clicking the follow button didn't actually do anything as far as I could tell.  Instead I was opted into the So.cl's default interests.  I tried for several minutes to navigate back to this preferences screen before realizing the only way to actually do this was clicking a small "Find more" link at the bottom of the applications left-hand navigation bar.  As of this writing I can still not unfollow or add new interests.

I've since tried a posting a couple things to the network and the experience has been equally as confusing.  When posting, I am given the option to post entities like Web,Video, Feeds (not RSS apparently), etc.  With every other social network I've ever used, the application can independently ascertain what type of content I am posting.  With So.cl, this is not the case and it's up to me the user to specifically state the type of content each time.

It was also not immediately apparent to me that I was posting publicly (until after I had already done so).  Later I discovered that by clicking a nondescript globe icon next to a sharing box that I could make my posts private, but again it was not at all clear what this meant.  I assumed this meant that my posts were shared only with friends that I have specified (of which I currently have none).

Of the three posts I made, I was surprised that five separate people commented on my items. I was equally surprised when I discovered that each of those five commenters were Microsoft engineers.  While trying to figure out the difference between a "hashtag" and a "tag" on So.cl, a Microsoft engineer explained to me why I should use tags because they were better.  It's a little telling when a product engineer has to explain to you why you are using their social network incorrectly.

On a slightly more positive note, I also publicly posted several bugs I had discovered and received a prompt response from a different engineer explaining the causations of these bugs.  He unfortunately didn't provide me with a way to officially submit future bugs or explain a timeline as to when he expected the ones that I had already posted to be fixed.

To conclude, I found So.cl to be confusing to understand, difficult to customize/navigate, and quite buggy (despite the fact the service does not explicitly mention being in beta).  I'd recommend at the very least creating an account and trying it for yourself.  However, as it stands now I really can't envision any scenario where So.cl gains significant consumer traction. 

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.