At a glance, Socl looks a lot like Facebook and Google+. A stream of status updates runs down the middle of the page, flanked by categories on the left and invitation options on the right. A strip across the top of the screen contains a search bar and notifications. There’s also a “Party” feature that lets users chat and watch YouTube videos together, just like “Hangouts” in Google+.
The difference with Socl is its emphasis on searching and tagging based on your interests. So if you want to find out about, say, funk music, you can type a query into the Bing bar on top and see what people are saying. Then, you can tag each post with terms like “funk,” “James Brown,” and so on. Friends will be able to see your searches and tags, and vice versa, the idea being that everyone in your network is helping to find signals in the noise.
Less clear is where all these status updates will come from. The Verge’s Thomas Houston writes that “you can plug into the potential traffic firehose that is Facebook,” but I can’t tell whether Microsoft is trying to build its own infrastructure of friends lists and groups as well. And will Twitter be involved, or is Socl just a way to categorize Facebook? (Also: how do you pronounce “Socl?”)
Microsoft may not even have all the answers yet. Socl is still being called a “Research Project,” as it was when the news first leaked in July. Although Microsoft is reportedly nearing the end of private testing, and will bring Socl to the public by invitation, it may never become a mainstream product.