Microsoft has failed at social media so far, but its latest attempt has some potential. Instead of creating its own platform, Microsoft will use existing services like Skype as social mechanisms.
Microsoft said Wednesday that it’s adding a sharing button to Skype, as a way to pass along interesting content and begin a conversation about them. Separately, Microsoft also launched Journal, a blogging platform that uses Microsoft’s Sway tool to host content on the nearly forgotten Docs.com.
The Skype integration is simple: Click the Skype icon, select from a list of friends, and Skype will share the content via a Skype message. Microsoft will put the sharing buttons alongside its own MSN content on sify.com (a site in India) and encourage third parties to add their own Skype buttons.
Why this matters: This is a cheeky bit of chutzpah: By placing the Skype sharing button alongside Facebook and Twitter icons on MSN and MSN-powered content, Microsoft is implying that Skype is a social network with millions of users, just like Facebook and Twitter. Which it is—except, well, it really isn’t. Except it is. Skype is a social network the way the telephone is a social network—a means of connecting friends and family that has evolved into more of a utility. Microsoft is suggesting it’s time to rethink those assumptions.
From so.cl to Sway
Microsoft has always been on the same plane as, say, an AOL or Yahoo, aggregating content from partners like the Associated Press and publishing it to various pages like MSN Money or MSN Sports. But it has always aspired to something more, launching So.cl in 2012 via Fuse Labs. Visually, it’s an odd hybrid of Pinterest or Instagram, where images are the topic of conversation, and hardcore geekiness: Users can actually write their own “kodu” games, for example, as well as post pictures or “picotales.”
Today, so.cl is almost a private network. The front page, which should be a cascading waterfall of images, hosts just a few users who greet each other like old friends.
Perhaps because of so.cl’s failure, Microsoft also has quietly launched Journal, a collaboration with Microsoft’s light content-creation tool, Sway, and Docs.com. Sway is one of the new tools found within Office 2016. The app creates content that combines texts, photos, and embedded documents, typically hosting them in the Microsoft cloud. Now, Microsoft is repositioning Sway as a blogging tool, complete with stats and analytics, on Docs.com.
Microsoft originally launched Docs.com in 2010 as a way to share Office documents with Facebook users, of all people, and then as its own sharing portal. But as sharing became integrated into the Office apps themselves, and became an integral part of web content as a whole, Docs.com became superfluous. (Microsoft repurposed the URL to anchor the new publishing platform, Pratley said.) Journal wants to change that.
“This has been a long time coming – it’s a notion we’ve had since the inception of Sway that it could be used as a public blogging or online essay tool,” Chris Pratley, the general manager of Sway, said in a… Sway. “And finally it is a reality.”
The idea seems to be that if you log into Docs.com with a Microsoft ID, you’ll be able to launch a Sway post as a Journal. At press time, though, that capability doesn’t seem to be enabled. (Microsoft tells me that you’ll need a Docs.com account to enable it.) It’s also unclear whether Sway will prove to be a useful blogging platform, as Sways aren’t even time- or date-stamped. (Pratley said via Twitter that the entries will tell you how long ago the entry was posted, and that the company is working to add the specific date and time.)
It’s too soon to know whether Microsoft’s new social initiatives will gain any traction, but they probably won’t do any worse than So.cl. Do you see Skype’s potential as a social platform? Do you still use So.cl? Let us know in the comments.
This story was updated at 3:50 PM with additional clarification from Microsoft and Pratley and again at 9:17 PM with additional comment from Pratley.
As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.