Microsoft Outlook Social Connector: Making Daily Activities Richer And More Social

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

Comments

Rapportive

It's great to see Microsoft catch on to this trend! If you're a gmail user either for work or pleasure, Rapportive.com has a simple plug-in that provides similar functionality. I've used it for a couple of months now, and would never turn back. Our lives are so inter-connected across so many publishing platforms that it's almost difficult to remember what was posted where. Using a simple tool like these helps to manage the overflow of information in the context of where they are most useful -- I completely agree. Not necessarily game-changing on its own, but definitely a small step in the right direction!

Privacy and Publicity

Thanks for bringing this feature to the forefront... I just set up facebook integration (released VERY recently), and I've had LinkedIn going for a few weeks.

LinkedIn integration is useful -- professional pictures and updates add value by making things a little more personal and keeping me up to date on big news from colleagues and clients.

Facebook integration, though, is a little stranger... and almost a bit scary from a privacy standpoint. Yes, facebook profile pictures and other data have been PUBLIC for a while now... but they haven't been PUBLICIZED in this way before. Think about it: every e-mail you send me, whether you're a friend or a distant colleague, includes your facebook photo and public updates. (credit to a Google UX researcher for the "public vs. publicized" phrasing)

Net, net - I really like these new features, but it puts a giant spotlight back on digital identity management.

Outlook social connector

I think it's great and adds real value to outlook!

Thanks for the comments!

Dawn, Omri and Tim, I appreciate the comments.

Omri, I don't find Facebook info being pulled into Outlook to be scary, but this is just another step toward a more integrated social world--and that, I agree, highlights (yet again) the need to understand one's privacy settings and the ramifications of sharing. Issues of privacy aren't going away any time soon, that's for sure!

Xobni

Augie

With the realize of this free add in where does this leave Outlook social add in Xobni in your view? Microsoft clearly borrowed the idea or at least inspiration from them right?

James

Xobni

James,

This again highlights the danger of building an app on someone else's platform. Just like when Twitter launched its own RIM application in competition with dozens of developer partner apps, Xobni is facing the danger that comes from trying to extend and enhance a Microsoft product.

I think there's plenty of room for Xobni, even with Microsoft's new Social Connector. Xobni does offers some additional features the MS Connector does not, such as email search and threaded conversations. But, in the end, it will depend upon ease of installation (Connector will win on that front based on being auto-installed with new installations of Outlook) and best features. It's up to Xobni to out-innovate Microsoft if they want to stay in the game!

First Gen. Outlook Social Integration

Have you seen Xobni? been around for a while and has really made Outlook a better tool for me by helping bring some of that social world into the work a day tasks that Outlook helps manage. http://www.xobni.com/