Microsoft still wants to be welcomed to the social

At its TechFest on Tuesday, Microsoft shows a pair of social-networking projects that show the power that can be made when various networks are combined together.

Tech Culture

REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft showed off two social-networking projects at TechFest on Tuesday that show that the company wants to do more in this area than just invest in Facebook.

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.

"When you start looking there is a surprising amount of information that gets locked in e-mail," said Shane Williams, one of the Microsoft Research team that worked on Salsa.

Lili Cheng, the Microsoft veteran who heads the social-computing team at Microsoft Research, said that part of the power of Salsa is simply putting a human face on e-mail. She said her own use of the site has borne out the power of that, noting it is harder to argue with a colleague when she sees a picture of them with their cute kid or pet.

"E-mail can be very dehumanizing," Cheng said.

Cheng said that in addition to deploying it inside Microsoft, she'd like to see how Salsa works within one or two other large companies to see if it is more broadly useful.

In another project from Cheng's group, known as C2, Microsoft researchers have created a Windows application that pieces together contact data from a variety of social-networking sites. For the purposes of Tuesday's demonstration, the researchers focused on Windows Live Spaces and Facebook. Researcher Steve Ickman said he chose those two because they represent among the most open (Spaces) and closed (Facebook) when it comes to data sharing.

Although Facebook is notoriously restrictive when it comes to members scraping their data, Ickman said that he believes he was able to stay within Facebook's terms of service by grabbing only approved data from one's own contacts and not caching the information long-term. "It's totally legal, at least at this point."

The project is more of a technology demonstration than anything geared toward a specific product, Ickman said, adding that he hoped it would demonstrate to the product teams that they can be more ambitious. "We tend to cancel things because they are too hard," he said.

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