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Microsoft’s Outlook As a Social Hub?

Many folks like to talk about how anything labeled a Microsoft web strategy is an oxymoron considering the company’s less than stellar track record in the online world. That doesn’t mean that they will stop trying though. In an apparent attempt to ensure that they are seen as relevant in the social space the software giant is bringing some new friends into its ubiquitous Outlook product. Those friends are Facebook, MySpace and Linkedin. While it appears that Facebook is virtually everywhere it is quite interesting to see MySpace making some positive news these days. From a pure business play LinkedIn makes sense.

Yahoo tells us a little more:

Microsoft Corp. is taking another step toward turning Outlook, its desktop e-mail program, into a hub for information from popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

On Wednesday, Microsoft is releasing a “beta” test version of the Outlook Social Connector. The add-on software, which was first discussed last November, adds a new pane to the main e-mail reading screen on Outlook. When a user clicks to read an e-mail message, the new pane fills up with the sender’s most recent social-networking activities. Those could include the addition of a professional contact on LinkedIn or a “what I’m doing now” status update from Facebook.

I don’t know about you but the pace of social networking / media / marketing announcements can be dizzying . What’s even harder to consider is just how many of these options one person can actually use. Not to mention just how excited employers must be to see their employee’s inbox at work become another place to be distracted from doing that pesky work thing.

Will Kennedy, a corporate vice president for the Office group, said some of Microsoft’s business customers have expressed concern that employees will become less productive if they have all this extra information at their fingertips.

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

That’s awful thoughtful of Microsoft to worry about workplace productivity but it’s hard not to imagine this won’t happen. Microsoft is spinning it by saying that the social part of it will increase productivity and that there are business related networking features that will increase productivity as well.

Microsoft’s new software also treats Outlook itself as a social network. If the e-mail sender and recipient are jointly working on a document stored on a company’s Sharepoint server, both will see updates if one logs on to make edits

One thing that may actually take the social out of this social networking tool is that there will not be capability to push updates back out to Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. So, I suppose it’s social in a “one way conversation” kinda way.

People using Office 2003, 2007 and beta versions of Office 2010 can download the updated Outlook Social Connector beta Wednesday. LinkedIn, which is primarily used for business networking online, is the first company to make its add-in software available. It can be downloaded from LinkedIn.com.

All I can say is good luck getting anything done while you are keeping tabs on everyone else who is not getting anything done.