Do you remember a time when keeping track of your social networks meant only checking your inbox? Neither do I, but Microsoft is working on a solution that will eventually allow Outlook to integrate with a number of social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace with the Outlook Social Connector:
The Outlook Social Connector is a set of new features to help keep track of your friends and colleagues while enabling you to grow your professional network. The Outlook Social Connector is available now as part of the Microsoft Office 2010 Beta.
The Outlook Social Connector (OSC) brings social views of your colleagues and friends right to your Inbox. As you read your e-mail messages, glance down at the new People Pane to see the picture, name, and title of the sender. A rich, aggregated collection of information about the sender is included.
The Outlook Social Connector is one of a number of services that aim to integrate social networks into the mail tools that people use every day. Google has much the same goals with Buzz, as does the Mozilla RainDrop project. Inevitably comparisons between the services have started to pop up:
Compared to Google Buzz, right now the Outlook Social Connector is positively anaemic in the features department, especially with no mention of Twitter integration in its future. But for Outlook users with an active LinkedIn network, it offers an easy way to keep up with professional contacts without leaving your inbox (and a way for Microsoft to compete with Google Apps' upcoming Buzz integration).
Microsoft has also released the OSC SDK, providing the tools developers need to integrate additional social networks.
The beta version of OSC, supporting Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 beta can be downloaded from here.