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article imageMicrosoft shuts down the social network you didn't know existed

By James Walker     Mar 8, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft has announced it is shutting down its long-forgotten So.cl social network launched back in 2011. The site was created by the company's FUSE Labs research division and hasn’t been updated in years. It never attained widespread attention.
If you've never heard of So.cl, you can probably forgive yourself. Viewed as an intriguing blend of typical social networks and the saving-things-online pin-board Pinterest, Microsoft launched the platform as a kind of internal experiment. Originally demonstrated to university students, it later expanded to anyone who wanted to use it. Microsoft has never stated user numbers but it's safe to say few signed up.
The site is built on Microsoft's now-abandoned "Metro" design language. The tiled interface and focus on typography and space has since been thrown out with Windows 10, although Microsoft is now working to restore some of Metro's core components. So.cl's interface now looks dated and empty though, highlighting what could have been. The site has been largely dormant for years, although the news of its impending shutdown has triggered waves of "goodbye" posts.
In its closure announcement, Microsoft described So.cl as a "wonderful outlet for creative expression." The site's simplicity and its global homepage showcasing content from all users made it a good place to share creative material and digital media. The main feed is separated into two tabs, "following" and "everyone," so you can easily see material being shared across the network.
So.cl
So.cl
Microsoft
Despite its inability to grow out of FUSE Labs and become mainstream, Microsoft said it still views So.cl as a success. The site was used as a testing ground for social media concepts, interface designs and features that have later been evolved in Microsoft's other products. So.cl let you group posts into collections – a key feature of Google Plus, launched in the same year – and offered automatic machine translation of foreign-language posts. Today's social networks don't generally come with this capability.
"Socl has been a wonderful outlet for creative expression, as well as a place to enjoy a supportive community of like-minded people, sharing and learning together," said Microsoft. "In supporting you, Socl’s unique community of creators, we have learned invaluable lessons in what it takes to establish and maintain community as well as introduce novel new ways to make, share and collect digital stuff we love."
Microsoft never really intended So.cl to be a fully-fledged Facebook rival. It even relied on Facebook itself to handle user logins. So.cl's experimental nature has left it with other strange behaviour quirks and limitations. You can’t upload a photo without text or add people as friends.
So.cl will remain online for another week. After March 15, it'll be permanently inaccessible. With So.cl gone, Microsoft no longer has a consumer-focused social network, unless you count its Xbox Live gaming platform. On the enterprise side, the company continues to promote Yammer as part of Office 365, a fully-fledged business communication service billed as Facebook for organisations. It also now owns LinkedIn, viewed as the leading social network for business professionals.
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