Since the launch of Google Buzz last Tuesday, we’ve been hearing more analyses from professionals and bloggers warning of a possible showdown of sorts between Google and Microsoft in the social space. Buzz is Google’s social connection with its Gmail; but Microsoft already announced last year its own social connection with its mail platform: the forthcoming Social Connector plug-in for Outlook 2010, due for release with the rest of Microsoft Office 2010 this June. The latest release candidate for Office 2010 was distributed to private testers earlier this month.
Social Connector promises to transform Outlook 2010 into a live network teeming with contacts who share not just e-mail, but chats and texts through Windows Live and documents through SharePoint. Messages received from a “live” contact will be adorned with that person’s availability, location, and a record of recent activities. Though LinkedIn has already signed on as Microsoft’s first third-party partner, connectivity with Facebook — probably distributed by Facebook, not Microsoft — appears likely. So much of the same kind of functionality folks are seeing with Buzz, will likely appear in Outlook as well, although slanted more toward professional tasks rather than personal friends and acquaintances.
Microsoft’s early response to Buzz was covered last Tuesday by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley was that the company felt there were already enough social networks to go around without Google building another one. But that response came from a Windows Live product manager — someone defending a product that Microsoft is building into a social network. As Mary Jo and others who’ve also covered Microsoft for decades know full well, the other end of the Redmond campus may as well be a different hemisphere.
So although the initial implication of that response appeared to be a defensive strike, the truth of the matter is, Social Connector is being designed to connect to social networks, not to become one. It doesn’t have to be perceived as going head-to-head against Buzz unless that’s how Microsoft insists on marketing it. The very real possibility exists that Buzz could be connected to Social Connector, by means of the open API that Microsoft began distributing to Office developers since the release of the public beta.
A snippet from the activities list that appears beside a contact or a contact’s e-mail message, in Outlook 2010 with Social Connector attached. [Courtesy Microsoft]
Betanews asked Microsoft spokespersons representing that opposite hemisphere, how likely is it that Google Buzz will become represented in Outlook Social Connector? Technically, we were told, it’s absolutely feasible. Microsoft would not preclude Google from making Buzz connectivity feasible in Social Connector. What that means is that it won’t be Microsoft that does the deed, though it may be Microsoft that provides the incentive for Google to do the deed — and that makes it look like Google’s the one that’s abstaining, if it chooses not to take action.
Will Google do the deed? Betanews asked our contacts at Google, who firmly responded with several “no comments” embellished with the telltale phrase “for now.” Spokespersons cautiously agreed that the phrase “for now” is intentional; that this situation could change without notice…making this one of the more telling sets of “no comments” we could receive.