Wednesday, December 19, 2012

WotW: Socl - the New Kid on the Block with Lots to Offer

Dust off your old Hotmail account, there's a new use for it. While you're trying to remember what terrible username you used to use when you set it up way back when (and what your password was – probably 123456), let me tell you why you'll need it.

Microsoft recently released their own social network called Socl. In typical Microsoft fashion, it's a product coming way too late in the game. However, unlike most Microsoft endeavors, Microsoft seemed to nail this product on their first try.

Socl is a cross between Pinterest and Tumblr. It allows you to create a post around a topic and flush this post out with pictures, videos, links and a written description by you. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong. It couldn't be easier.

To get started, sign in to Socl using either your old Hotmail or MSN account, or you can sign in using your Facebook account.

Once logged in, you will notice you are on an eternally scrolling home page filled with posts. It kind of looks like Pinterest, but with a lot of squares. These are the various posts people have created. These are fun to look through, but let's first learn about how to create a post.

Getting started is simple. Look at the top of the page and find the green bar with a plus sign. Click on that plus sign.

You have now started your first Socl post. Of course, it's empty to start with. You have to come up with a post topic. Since it's Christmas time, I decided to create a post about one of my favorite Christmas movies: A Christmas Story.
The green search bar you originally clicked on has followed you to this new page. Type the search term you want in the green bar. In my case, I typed "a christmas story."
Socl then uses Bing's powerful search engine capabilities to pull up images, videos and links related to what you searched for. It displays these on the right side of the screen in little squares and rectangles. These are what you use to compose your post.

Simply click on any image, video or link square and it is automatically added to your post. Of course, you can rearrange and delete anything you add to your post, because it's not officially posted until you say it is.

At first, you only see a few images and videos appear. There are plenty more though. Simply click the "more images" or "more videos" link and you'll have plenty of options.

You'll notice in my example below, I have added a bunch of pictures, one video clip and three links.

There is also space at the bottom of your post for you to write any comments you might have. Below that, there is a "tag to interest" section. Socl utilizes tags, similar to tags on Tumblr or any blog service. These can help people find your content, which in turn helps you gain followers.

Once your post is complete, press Post. Your post now appears on your profile page and becomes part of the massive, forever-scrolling Socl posts feed.

As you look through other Socl posts, you have typical social media interaction options. The smiley face icon is similar to the Like button on Facebook. You can leave comments for the original poster. You can also share the post on Facebook, Twitter or Email. The tag option on someone else's post allows you to add or create new categories, or interests as they're called in Socl. This is kind of like a board in Pinterest.

When you click to comment on a post, another sharing option appears called "riff on this post." Clicking on this allows you to create a similar post based on what the original post contains. For instance, let's say I find a cool post about iPhones. I can riff that to find new iPhone images, videos and links that I can customize to my liking and share with my friends.

Adding more to the Pinterest similarities, Socl has a bookmarklet that allows you to create (or at least start) posts with one click.

Now, it's not quite as fast as the Pinterest bookmarklet, because once pushed, you are taken to the post creation page. The bookmarklet simply sifts through that page and finds any images, videos and links and displays these for you. You can then add them to a new post.

One cool thing about Socl is the ability to do multiple searches in one post. For instance, let's say I start a post about guitars. I select a bunch of images and videos. Then I remember I want to add a specific guitar brand. I don't have to start over. I simply erase the current search term and type in a new one in the green bar. All the items I have already added to my post stay, but I get new images, videos and links to sift through.

Three other cool things about Socl. The first is the Interests page. Based on the tags people create, Socl displays a number of popular interests. Viewing and/or following any of these helps you narrow down your viewing to just those things you care about.

Next, Socl has a messaging feature similar to Twitter's Direct Messaging, only it's called Conversations in Socl. While Socl is new and the proper social etiquette is still being defined, try to follow the same standard as Twitter and limit these conversations.

Finally, Socl has a feature called Parties. No, you don't hook up with random friends for digital raves. Instead, Parties allows you to host a video viewing party. This is similar to a Google+ Hangout, though not as advanced. On the Parties page, you can scroll through a number of existing video parties or start your own. Others may join and you can have a chat conversation about the video while you watch.

I know there are a lot of social networks out there and you might be thinking, "Seriously, another one? I barely have time to keep up with Facebook." While there's nothing saying you need to jump on this bandwagon, I highly recommend it. Pinterest is popular and successful as a social network not so much because it is social, but because it's a great escape website. You can waste countless hours scrolling through new content. It's addicting. And as addicting as Pinterest is, Socl can be even more addicting.

Another advantage Socl has is how open and friendly the users are. It's a community of people sharing ideas, interests and fun images, videos and links. There is so little of quick status updates here. This is about sharing content and I can pretty much guarantee you'll find something that interests you. One thing I was surprised at was how compelled I was to comment and/or like posts. I'm usually rather reserved on other social networks, but when I see a post dedicated to something I love, I feel this desire to let the author of the post know I appreciate it.

At the very least, you owe it to yourself to try it out. I find Socl easy to use, fun to discover new things and it's very clean and simple. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
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