February 18, 2010

Microsoft Advances Outlook Into The Social Network World

Microsoft Corp. is taking its Outlook e-mail program and turning it into a hub for information from social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The company's "beta" test version of the software was first discussed last November, the Associated Press reports. 

A user can click a link to read an e-mail message, and then a new pane on the main e-mail reading screen fills the sender's most recent social networking activities. 

Microsoft updated its Outlook Social Connector plug-in on Wednesday, and LinkedIn released the first outside plug-in for the feature.

There is a small startup called Xobni that has already built an Outlook add-on that combines inbox search with content from Facebook and other popular services.

Outlook can already be used as a social networking service by itself.  If the e-mail sender and recipient are working together on a document stored on a company's Sharepoint server, both will see updates if one logs on to make edits.

Currently, Microsoft's new Outlook add-on does not allow users to push information back up to LinkedIn, Facebook or other sites.

People that have Office 2003, 2007 and beta versions of Office 2010 can download the updated Outlook Social Connector beta from Microsoft and then visit LinkedIn for the add-on software.

Microsoft said that Facebook and MySpace plug-ins would be ready in June at the release of Office 2010.

Corporate vice president for the Office group Will Kennedy said that some of Microsoft's business customers have concerns that employees will become less productive if they have this extra information at their fingertips.

However, Kennedy believes the Social Connector will be business-friendly.  He says it could speed up the processes that requires approval from a string of people, because each person in that chain could see when it's time for him or her to jump in.

"We don't want this to sort of be the next great time waster in the workplace," he said.


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