In Facebook Experiment, Microsoft Works to Deliver Shared Documents and Connect with Consumers Online

7/15/10Follow @wroush

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wait list for access to the service early this month, and last week, it introduced the most significant upgrade to Docs.com since the service was introduced at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in April: the ability for owners of Facebook fan pages to create documents and then reassign the authorship of those documents to the fan pages themselves.

That may sound obscure, but it was actually the single most requested feature among early Docs.com users, according to Kinsel, who is a 2007 graduate of Boston University and worked from Microsoft’s Cambridge, MA, lab until last fall. Facebook originally created fan pages to give businesses, celebrities, publications, and other entities a way around the 5,000-friend limit on conventional Facebook profiles. The new Docs.com fan page feature means two things: It gives Facebook fan page administrators a new channel for communicating with their fans (i.e., friends), in the form of Word, PowerPoint, or Excel documents that are saved on Docs.com but show up on the fan page’s wall, just like any other piece of content shared on Facebook. And it means that for fan pages with multiple owners, administrators can edit documents jointly.

“It creates a shared, collaborative space,” says Kinsel, who led the development of Docs.com and oversees Microsoft’s collaboration with Facebook’s engineering team. “Say FUSE Labs wanted to put out an update next week. I could easily create a document on Docs.com, and by changing the author [to the FUSE Labs fan page] we could collaborate on it and then publish it out to the page.”

Sample Docs.com documents created by usersThe initial vision for Docs.com, Kinsel says, was simply to allow individual Facebook users to create documents, share them with a few friends, and publish them to their profiles. But “the number one requested feature we got was for fan page integration,” he says. Those requests weren’t just about marketing (though Kinsel does point to users like YouTube celebrities Michelle Phan, a beauty tips expert, and Mystery Guitar Man, a—well, a mysterious shades-wearing guitar player—as examples of people using Docs.com to communicate with fans and promote their online presence). Fan page owners also wanted the ability to edit documents as a group, Kinsel says.

But what’s interesting to Kinsel—and this goes back to the photo-sharing comparison—is the way the whole culture around documents can change when document authoring and sharing tools are embedded in a very large online community. (Facebook is expected to cross the 500-million-member mark sometime this summer.) “Something we talk a lot about in the lab is this virtuous cycle of creation and consumption,” Kinsel says. “That’s a mouthful of a term, but it’s basically this concept that there are products out there, Facebook being the prime example, where each additional piece of content that’s created begets another piece of content.”

On Facebook, for example, every time a member “Likes” a piece of content, that fact shows up on their wall or news feed, with a link back to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.shareddoc.com David Brown

    In a nutshell, technology has and will continue to evolve the transformation of written works from one-way communication tools to discussion platforms. While Microsoft’s approach is more consumer focused, companies like SharedDoc (www.shareddoc.com) work to address the need for a similar-type of sharing environment for documents, but from a small and medium-size business (SMB) standpoint. There’s SharePoint for Enterprises, Docs.com for the masses and SharedDoc for SMB’s. A web-based SaaS platform, SharedDoc enables SMBs to collaborate on a document in a fully managed, invitation-only environment that can be controlled by the document author or business entity; free of installation.

    Microsoft’s effort to socialize the creation and consumption of documents is a welcome breath of fresh air that further validates SharedDoc’s market position.