Microsoft has announced the release of Microsoft Outlook Social Connector, which will bring friends’ data from Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace into users' Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010. Before anyone says "Buzz" and discounts the value of this offering from Microsoft, I think we need to consider this not from the angle of yet another social platform or social aggregation tool but as a means of making our daily activities richer and more social.
The Microsoft Outlook Social Connector won't change the social networking world, but it isn't designed to do so. The Outlook Social Connector won’t replace any social networking behavior that we already have; you'll still check Facebook.com, use Facebook's mobile site and apps and make status updates via Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. Instead of competing with existing tools, Microsoft’s new plug-in is another step toward a more social experience where social data is organically integrated into our daily habits and activities.
The word “organic” comes to mind a lot as I consider the Outlook Connector because, rather than learning of our friends’ activities by making a special effort to do so (as in going to Facebook.com), this information will instead come to us. For example, we will read an email from a work peer and be able to see the things they’re posting to LinkedIn and Facebook (provided their privacy settings permit). Instead of retrieving friends’ information, it will be presented to us at the time and in the context when we will care to see it. Of course, we’ll still have explicitly social behaviors — we’ll visit Facebook to retrieve friends’ information, play social games, post pictures to Facebook and the like — but Microsoft Outlook Social Connector gives us yet another way to be social that is organic and integrates into previously non-social activities.
There are limitations, and I think the adoption rate for Microsoft’s Social Connector will be slow. People using Outlook 2007 and 2003 will need to download a plug-in and, of course, Outlook for many people is used more at work than for leisure email. Plus, at this point the Connector has two big limitations: It doesn’t include Twitter, and it is largely one-way — you can read friends' status updates, but you cannot comment back to them or post your own.
The Connector shows promise. It won’t substantially change our social behaviors, but I believe it will make using Outlook a richer, more informative, more social experience. Do you agree?
You can download Microsoft Outlook Social Connector Provider for Facebook here and can learn more about it via a Microsoft video posted to Mashable.com.