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Outlook 2010 to become Facebook for the enterprise

With a new add-on announced today, Outlook Social Connector, e-mail becomes a social network.

Microsoft today announced a plugin for Office 2010 that let's users access third-party social networks through Outlook.The tool is dubbed Outlook Social Connector. While it's a great concept to turn e-mail into a social network, it may suffer the fate of many cool ideas from Microsoft: iffy execution.

First the news: Outlook Social Connector does a bang up job in allowing you to bring your state-of-the-art Microsoft collaboration/social networks into Outlook 2010, particularly the next incarnation of SharePoint, 2010. It creates a Facebook like inbox that integrates your status information from your social network with traditional stuff that Outlook holds, such as contacts (with pictures of them) recent data about your interactions with them ( such as e-mail strings, appointments, attachments they sent). Better still, it connects to the new support for social networking that SharePoint 2010 adds -- and that's a top notch idea by Microsoft. SharePoint 2010 will offer features such as instant, simultaneous updates of shared documents and realtime collaborations.

Outlook Social Connector

Microsoft offers an old fashioned SDK with it, too, so network providers that want to get to users through Outlook can build a plug-in and do so. LinkedIn has already signed on and next year (yup, gotta wait until 2010), Windows Live will be part of the network, too.

But, in typical Microsoft fashion, the gotchas are big and bountiful.

  • Outlook Social Connector requires Outlook 2010. If you are running Office 2007, which most of the world will be doing for some time, tough luck.
  • Likewise, the two biggie social networks that most people are using, namely Facebook and Twitter, are not yet supported.
  • There are dozens of other social networks out there, from Live Journal to Ning that would not be included -- unless the developers of those networks saw some reason to become an Outlook Social Connector network.
  • And, while Microsoft offers an API/SDK, dare we mention that this is the 2009? Microsoft uses the word "open" but hasn't open sourced the code, not even under its own open source licenses. (My guess: that's subject to change.)
  • One more gotcha: most Outlook users are using it at work (and using Google mail at home). Companies may not want to convert e-mail into a giant social network distracting their employees into spending time at work chit chatting with friends.

Let's note, too, that a good chunk of the functionality that Outlook Social Connector is already available for Outlook 2007, and in some cases Outlook 2003, with various freebie Outlook add-ons. For instance ...

LinkedIn: LinkedIn offers a toolbar for accessing LinkedIn via Outlook -- and it works with 2007 (though often crashes it). right now.

FBLook: Update your status, see your friends status, from Outlook.

TwInbox: Turns Outlook into a TweetDeck ... update your status, see others updates, organize friends into groups, etc.

For companies that will be upgrading to Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, this connector seems like it could be a great idea. For the rest of the world, we'll have to wait and see.

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