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

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the original thing they liked, be it a page, a photo, a video, or a document. That, in turn, can inspire their friends to click on the link, and Like it themselves. And on and on.

To put it all in the simplest terms: If you’re a company built around authoring programs and other software for personal computing, but computer users are spending more and more of their time in social environments like Facebook, you’d better understand how people want to use documents in social settings. That’s the raison d’etre for FUSE Labs, really—which makes Docs.com a bellwether project at Microsoft.

Kinsel’s own description of Docs.com’s significance for the company is worth quoting at length: “We actually believe that Microsoft, in many ways, is already a leader in social computing. It’s just happening mostly in the enterprise. There are huge investments in the company already, over many years, to enable social functionality on products like SharePoint and Office 2010. As a lab, we really are focused on two key ways of influencing the company. Number one is looking at what experience does the company already have in these enterprise social scenarios that we can learn from and potentially extend to the consumer space. And vice versa—what is happening in the consumer space that we can bring back into Office and our other core products. This Docs.com project is really a combination of both.”

If Docs.com took off and wound up being the model for other projects inside Microsoft, “it would be a fantastic thing,” Kinsel says. He says that FUSE Labs and Docs.com “already has the attention of some key executives”—presumably including chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who first announced the lab’s creation last fall. And there’s already a plan to extend Docs.com’s features further, including a major “back to school” update this coming fall.

In the end, it’s Facebook, not FUSE Labs, that is the real laboratory in this scenario. “Really understanding the Facebook community themselves, and how they interact and how they want to interact in the context of documents, is really valuable to figure out, so that company-wide we can figure out the right strategy going forward,” says Kinsel. “We believe that the concept of ‘social’ is reinventing all sorts of applications, and potentially the software industry as a whole. As evidenced by what the company has done in a lot of our new enterprise products, we support that completely, and we think we are in a real position to execute.”

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

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