This morning the Microsoft Outlook blog announced the release of Social Connect, a beta add-on that works with Outlook 2010, 2007, and 2003. Social Connect aggregates your Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn connections – as well as their social information – and then integrates it all into your Outlook contact directory. You can add new contacts in Outlook from these affiliated social networks, and if you synch our data on your cell phone, you’ll always have current information for all of your contacts right in your pocket.
Simply put, Social Connect promises to make managing relationships and networking opportunities easier than ever. It’s a promising application that can fully integrate contact data across social network and putting it all in one place: on your desktop.
What’s the Big Deal?
Currently, there are no good platforms for doing what Social Connect can do. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and Twirl are all AIR apps that bring our contacts social streams to the desktop, but have no archive, no address book, have no calendar integration, and are notorious resource hogs. They’re toys.
Information dashboards like Netvibes and iGoogle can be installed on a desktop, and utilize widgets for data, but these widgets are limited to data feeds. Dashboards are toys, as well. High-functioning toys, but they’re serious business tools.
So, why is the beta release of Social Connect such a big deal? Outlook is a professional email client. It a highly supported product and has the infrastructure in place to expand future Social Connect features. Before now, pooling relationship-based activities for one-stop viewing has only been possible using toy apps. Social Connect makes social networking respectable.
There is no question that contact data integration is invaluable. In fact, VP of Marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff wrote about the need for this kind of aggregation almost a year ago in his post THE Universal Communication Client? In this post Jascha predicted Outlook as the logical platform on which to build a portal that combined feeds, instant messaging, and social statuses for the busy professional.
Jascha goes on to point out that, although there is a persistent inconsistency between the Mac and PC versions of Outlook, the powerhouse email application has a long history of product stability, a calendar, an address book, the ability to import RSS feeds, and project management functionality. All of these features are critical tools for a grown-up contact management system.
Social connectivity in Outlook isn’t entirely new. The ability to import RSS feeds into Outlook, for example, has been around for quite some time. Additionally, a beta download called LinkedIn for Outlook has been an available add-on since November 2009. Outlook 2010 users who install Social Connect — and who already had been using Outlook 2010 with integrated LinkedIn data — will now see the inclusion of their contact’s Facebook and MySpace social statuses.
Social Connect isn’t a silver bullet. But if it’s adopted by Outlook 2010 users, it will bring the value of social status updates to the desktop inbox. From an analytics perspective, I’m curious about the shift in tracking inbound traffic from social network clients. (For example, all traffic from a Twitter client looks like direct traffic because they aren’t coming from a referring URL.) Also, as Jascha mentioned in his post, there is still a need for CRM integration, linked conversations, analytics data pulls, and task prioritization. It’s also possible that if these tools are added to Outlook we’ll face features creep (and maybe a constant fight with Microsoft Exchange Server).
There is an obvious need to turn the inbox into a space to collect current contact data across the social networks. A clear indication of this is the browser-based Google Buzz, which also brings data from your friends, family, and colleagues into your email client. If both Microsoft and Google are incorporating the social web into their email applications, you can bet the trend is moving toward using grown-up tools instead of toy apps to make this happen.
So, is the Social Connect add-on for Outlook 2010 a game-changer? Or is it merely keeping up with the game? We’ll have to wait and see, but the outlook looks good!