Everybody is getting in the game. Google just announced Buzz, its social feed add-on to Gmail, last week and today Microsoft is bringing the feed to Outlook. Microsoft first announced its social media add-on, the Outlook Social Connector, last November but today begins the public beta period for LinkedIn for Outlook. The company has also announced partnerships with Facebook and Myspace.
Coming in the wake of Buzz, Microsoft is being very careful to tout it’s concern for your privacy concerns, as well as take a very step-by-step approach to rolling out the new features.
The LinkedIn plug-in works with Outlook 2010, 2007 and 2003. As opposed to Buzz, users have full control over whether or not to use the service. They not only have to opt-in, they need to download and install the beta version of Outlook, the social connector extension and the LinkedIn plug-in. By the time you’re finished, we couldn’t imagine you could have ended up there by accident.
Even then, the social connector is a read-only service at the moment, meaning you cannot yet update your services from within Outlook. We’re sure that the ability to update from within Outlook will come, but as we said, Microsoft seems to be rolling out these features very carefully, so as not to have the same privacy concerns with its primarily enterprise user base.
As for privacy, Microsoft had the following to say:
Finally, its important to mention that with multiple professional and social networks available for the Outlook Social Connector, the design of the OSC is such that your privacy and permissions settings on each of the networks you use are represented and respected within this experience. For example, if your profile photo and job title are publicly listed on a given network, then OSC users will see your photo and job title when receiving an e-mail from you (if they use that same network). Similarly, if you choose to restrict profile access on a given network, the OSC will respect that privacy. The goal of the OSC is not to create another social network or set of privacy settings for you to manage, but rather to bring the networks you already value and use to the Outlook experience.
While this means that users don’t have to worry about tweaking yet another layer of privacy settings, they need to be aware of the settings they already have in place, as the OSC will import and use information from the included social networks.
For now, only the LinkedIn plug-in is available, and the only information on when Facebook and Myspace will be available is “later this year”. Microsoft did, however, offer a preview of what the new feature would look like.
While privacy concerns are huge for Microsoft’s customers, we have to wonder, like many others, about another concern – whether or not businesses really want social networks appearing in the company inbox.
As Will Kennedy, a corporate vice president for the Office group, was quoted as saying in the AP article on today’s announcement, “We don’t want this to sort of be the next great time waster in the workplace.”
Perhaps this roll-out is like slowly heating the water so the frog doesn’t jump out – if you get everyone acquainted with LinkedIn first, they won’t run away when Facebook and Myspace come around.