Microsoft have for some time, been slow to adjust to developments on the web. Bill Gates was famously slow to understand what made Gmail attractive to users. Bing has still a long way to go in eroding market share from Google, and in the social media race to supplement search results with social information ALA Google+ – they have barely left the starting blocks yet.
So.cl – the underground social network from Microsoft that came out from cover last week has only been around for a short time, and its not yet clear as to whether it will make any dent in the competition. In any case, its offering seems more of a Pinterest / Delicious hybrid than a serious social network of people connections. However, whilst everyone thinks that it is going to be some kind of competitor to the likes of Facebook or Google+ – I’m not convinced.
In fact, Microsoft have already got the beginnings of a true social network already, one that everyone has forgotten about – Skype. Let’s start with the facts, and the metric on the tip of evey analysts’ lips.
Skype has over 600 million users. Google+ in comparison has a total of 500 million users putting Skype in a pretty powerful positions. A pivot into a social network by bringing Skype technology to a website rather than a desktop client is not only feasible, but would accelerate that growth further. Lower barrier to entry on signup, combined with addition features that only the web as a platform can provide.
Skype has all the components of a social network already there. A social graph of connections between users, with many people using Skype to contact friends and family and business associates. We’ve all experienced the enthusiasm around Google+ Hangouts, and Skype has the ability to shift into a network online that combines something similar with its pre-existing voice communication technology. You can set a status ‘mood’ message, you can text message, use it as a group chat system, you can share files, photos and your computer screen.
One of the more interesting developments with Skype recently that the press haven’t yet picked up on, is the merging of Live accounts with Skype accounts for users not already on that pathway. For the recent version which is available on Windows 8, Skype force users to adjust their user account to sign in with a Live ID. That is, the same username and password that many people access their Hotmail account or Xbox account through.
It makes total sense to take those 600 million + users down that particular track, as doing so opens up FURTHER social connections which already exist inside the various people who you are emailing frequently. i.e. your Hotmail contacts. Indeed I was quickly informed of other users who had Skype accounts currently, and whom I could add to Skype. If that doesn’t look like smart user onboarding, I don’t know what does. Currently. inside the Windows 8 app store, Skype remains one of the most popular free downloads, and Microsoft have the control and influence to leave it there. Is this controlled algorithmically? Maybe. Maybe not.
Perhaps its too early to tell, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that Microsoft are planning a much longer game for social. One that combines built in Windows 8 features, with Skype, Xbox and Windows Live all playing a fundamental role, especially if you consider the sheer volume of users that they have at their disposal already.