Microsoft’s Socl network steps up its game with animated GIFs, meme generator
Microsoft has been playing around with the idea of a social network for a few years, but its lab-grown Socl has been slow to catch on with the kids. On Tuesday, Microsoft is introducing a handful of new features to pump up the volume on what it now calls its "social network for creatives.” And what better path to Internet domination than cat GIFs and pictures with funny words on them?
A meme generator and GIF creator are two brand-new tools Socl users will see on Tuesday. Picotale is a strange name for a feature that lets you enter a phrase and browse photos that would fit the meme. Blink is the animated GIF creator that comes in the form of a stand-alone app for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The app, also released on Tuesday, lets you start with an image blast, which you can then animate, turn into a looping reel (sort of like Vine), or simply choose the best image to post.
The success of Vine and Instagram have proved that people like to create and share their own works, not just links and images they find around the Internet. Even Pinterest, which is essentially a vast collection of pretty images, lets you curate the life you want through bulletin boards.
Microsoft FUSE Labs general manager Lili Cheng says the company noticed that people on Socl were finding memes and GIFs from outside the network and sharing them on the site. But the community was clamoring for more. Picotale and Blink are designed to satisfy that urge. People can also upload their own photos to Collages—before, they could only add images and links on the Web to create themed Collages (think: Paris street scenes, favorite celebrities).
Microsoft also added more sharing tools to encourage people to share their memes, GIFs, collages, and video playlists (called Parties) to Pinterest and Tumblr. (Facebook and Twitter were already integrated.) Those external shares might draw more people to socialize on the site.
Microsoft’s FUSE Labs team developed Socl as an “experimental research project” for college students that focused on sharing images and links found through social search—using Bing, obviously.
The network deviates from the standard social experience: Instead of building out your personal information and friending people you know, Socl is designed to let you explore content you’re interested in and follow people with similar interests, kind of like Pinterest. You don’t really comment on posts so much as “riff” on them, or create a post in response.
Colleen Estrada, director of experience design at FUSE Labs, told TechHive that Socl has about 400,000 registered users. The site is popular primarily overseas, which is why one of Socl’s early additions was a translation tool to view posts in other languages. That’s another reason the network introduced more visual features, like meme and GIF creators—besides the fact that GIFs are infinitely shareable, which is why Myspace also recently added a GIF creator.
“People were using Socl to talk to people in different languages,” Cheng says. “We think the reason people are using Socl to do this is because of the imagery and ease of finding stuff to share—it’s easier to post using visuals. We wanted to amplify that.”
More features are coming down the pipeline, but Microsoft is waiting to see what the Socl community thinks of the new options. The site is optimized for mobile, but it’s a little strange for a social network in the smartphone age to not have a dedicated app—perhaps a Windows Phone mobile project (of course) is in the works.