On Monday, December 3, Shelly Farnham of Microsoft FUSE Labs (Future Social Experiences) visited The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University (iSchool) to discuss the analysis of social media systems. She specializes in social technologies at FUSE Labs and discussed everything from project design and prototyping to analyzing user data.

One of the highlights of Shelly’s presentation was Microsoft’s experimental social network So.cl, which is pronounced “social.” The heavily image-based social network combines search and sharing around user’s interests. On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled the site’s new design and user interface to the public. At first glance, the site has a strong Microsoft personality with the feel and fuctionality of Pinterest meeting the categorical organization of Redd.it.

Farnham stressed that So.cl is an experimental social network as FUSE Labs will use public user data to better understand user behavior on its social network.

“It’s really important to put it in front of users and see how they will experience it,” Farnham said.

So far, FUSE Labs has used earlier versions of the social network to gather data and analyze user behavior. One of the team’s prominent findings is that certain user behaviors are useful in predicting whether or not users will return and continue to actively use a social networking site. Some user behaviors, though, are not great predictors.

“Comments are not a good predictor of whether or not people will return,” Farnham said. “What is important is whether users are being followed or liked.”

 The So.cl Experience

At fist glance, you might notice a stark resemblance to Pinterest. That’s immediately what came to my mind when I visited the site for the first time. You are greeted by boards that contain multiple pictures of varying sizes, all complete with titles and a short descriptive caption below. Some boards also have links to web pages.

My screen was populated with pictures of the “worlds hardest game” and “Koo Sushi, SF.”

The menu options are simple and easy to navigate. After signing in either through Facebook or a Microsoft account, you’re ready to start sharing.

I was immediately drawn to the big button front and center at the top of the screen asking me to “type a topic to create a post.” Naturally I went with the topic and title “Innovation.”

So.cl will then search the web for relevant images, videos, news, and web pages that you can choose to populate your post. Within a few clicks of your mouse, you have a post that is ready for sharing.

What Makes So.cl Different?

So.cl was developed by FUSE Labs for research and data gathering. (Don’t worry, only your public data will be analyzed.) But what does this all mean for its future?

Farnham explained to me in a conversation after her presentation that with a project like this, goals can change and evolve based on the public’s response. If there’s enough of an interest from users, So.cl might be long-lived. If not, the opposite might be true.

Only the test of time will truly tell what the future holds for Microsoft’s So.cl experiment. But starting today, you can get online and start sharing and exploring So.cl with its newly redesigned experience.

Will you use So.cl? Share your thoughts on this new social network in the comments section below!