This article is part of our special report ICT: Fuelling the economy.
Microsoft and Google are developing web platforms combining the roles of social media and search engines – ‘social search’ – in moves that reveal a raging battle to harness cloud computing and combine the web’s most popular functions.
At a seminar on social media in Brussels on 8 February, Microsoft revealed that it is developing a ‘social search’ tool, called So.cl, currently in use at experimental stage primarily amongst the academic community.
Google Plus, which launched last autumn – and in January allowed users older than 13 years to join – combines the search giant’s usual engines with new social services and has been described as an attempt to rival the social network Facebook.
Both platforms involve users sharing information with each other and have a strong business application, allowing research and business communities to be created on line.
Sharing knowledge is a business matter
In Google’s case, pages can be set up for specific groups enabling business users across borders to create knowledge communities. Microsoft is developing So.cl as a research experiment for students focused on combining web browsing, search and social networking for the purposes of learning.
The two models have sharply different privacy standards. Google Plus uses a model of tight privacy control, aiming to imitate "real life" relationships by enabling users to lock certain friends from information that they make available to others.
Microsoft’s model is for users to forgo privacy, enabling all users in the sharing network to see the full trail of information and stories involved in social search chains. The company says that this has proved popular with students who are happier to use a platform where they "know where they stand" on privacy, rather than worrying about several different types of policy.
Increasing competition in the social search field
Both social search platforms can deal with vast quantities of data through their use of cloud computing, and both are aiming longer term to harness business users. So.cl is targeted at communities of researchers working at a distance, enabling them to pool specialist information. Microsoft is also hoping to capitalise on its relationship with Facebook to drive So.cl forward.
Social search is becoming an area of increasing competition between internet giants. Social platform Twitter complained in January about changes made by Google to integrate Google Plus into its search results.
Google hit back at Twitter, with chief executive Eric Schmidt saying that his company was not favouring its own social network over Facebook and Twitter, and claiming that “all would be treated equally” if the two rivals granted the search giant the right permissions to access their content.