Microsoft to Unleash the Social Networking Power of Outlook?

Just read this interesting snippet of information regarding Microsoft’s current R&D efforts in social networking

One project, known as Salsa, aims to use one’s corporate data to piece together their social network, or at least their network of co-workers. In its current form, the software is a plug-in to Outlook that shows social-networking information such as a photo and profile next to an incoming e-mail message. The program also pieces together a list of “friends” based on e-mail frequency and other data.

The Associated Press also reported on this news and added that Salsa”(..) integrates public social networking data such as Facebook.com entries, Twitter.com activity updates, and other information into the email windows of Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook email application. The tool allows people writing and responding to email to know more about the up-to-the-minute status of people they are corresponding with.”

What it means: finally, Microsoft is starting to explore the social networking power of Outlook, possibly the place where most people live their online social lives. I remember, at Mix06, Tim O’Reilly asking Bill Gates when they were going to leverage that installed base (“Outlook for many people is a reflection of their real social network”). I wonder if anyone can work on something like that with the Outlook API? There are reams of data ready to be mined in outlook e-mails (travel information, e-com transactions, events, merchant recommendations, etc.) but you need to show consumers you’re bringing lots of value, if you want them to add your plug-in.

Who Will Own “Where”?

Most of my business readings this weekend have been various analysis of the potential Yahoo/Microsoft deal. Unfortunately, I haven’t been impressed by the level of the debate as many of the comments were all about “Microsoft is evil” and its corollary “Google is not”. I was hoping for more level-headed reflections but I think the involvement of Microsoft in the story created a highly-emotional environment in the tech blogosphere.

One of them stood out for me. Tim O’Reilly looked at the big picture and tries to extract some industry meaning, showing once again his crystal ball is one of the most polished in the industry. Talking about industry consolidation in general and Yahoo in particular, he offered:

The web companies that have a chance of surviving as independent entities are those that truly understand and exploit the rules of the new platform: harnessing collective intelligence to build rich troves of data that literally get better the more people use the application, running ahead of any possible competitor simply because of the network effects that pile on to keep them improving faster than any newcomer. Some of Yahoo!s properties (e.g. Flickr) have that characteristic, but Yahoo!’s business as a whole did not. It was ultimately a halfway house on the way to Web 2.0. It’s original business was based on a literal aggregation of user generated content, but it quickly became a more traditional content and services portal. Later companies like Google leapfrogged it by building services that tapped more directly into the native network effects of the Web.

The other important characteristic of the winners, of course, is that they tap into a data stream that really matters. Owning network effects around consumer photos, for instance, is much less powerful than owning network effects around paid search. So one of the key questions we have to ask ourselves going forward is this: what are the major data subsystems of the future Internet Operating System. Location, identity (and social graph), search (and not just web search but also product search, in which Amazon has a very strong position) come to mind. In a lot of ways, finding the data associated with the old vectors who, what, when, where, and how is a good place to start.

What it means: O’Reilly posits that local search (Location + Search) is one of the key elements of the future Internet Operating System. I completely agree with him. I would add that no one has locked the market yet. No one in that field is deeply embedded yet in the Web O/S. So, this still represents a major market opportunity. And the big question remains: who will own “where”?

Doc Searls: How to Save Newspapers

Today, the blogosphere is aflame with comments around the future of newspapers following this posting by Tim O’Reilly re: some possible financial problems at the SF Chronicle. Many are again saying newspapers are dead but I think the best reply so far has been this posting from Doc Searls on “How to save Newspapers”. He offers 10 suggestions:

  1. Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There’s advertising money there. But please, open up the archives.
  2. Start featuring archived stuff on the paper’s website
  3. Link outside the paper
  4. Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies)
  5. Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here.
  6. Start looking to citizen journalists for coverage of hot breaking local news topics
  7. Stop calling everything “content”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.
  8. Uncomplicate your websites. And please, get rid of those lame registration systems.
  9. Get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link.
  10. Publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers.

What it means: these are very actionable simple to-dos for any newspaper Internet operations. I strongly espouse the following recommendations: opening up the archives and referring to them in your current news. It’s one of the things I’ve learned while blogging. You want to bring back to the surface your “old” content as much as you can to create a stickier environment. I also fully support the idea of linking outside your “garden walls” and using bloggers and citizen journalists. Searls says “You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time. Instead you’re the biggest fish in your pond’s ecosystem.” I totally agree! Overall, I think it’s all about redefinition of a newspaper stands for.