The Outlook team announced the availability of new Outlook Social Connector (OSC) providers for Facebook and Windows Live today.  The list of providers now includes LinkedIn and MySpace, as well as the aforementioned Facebook and Windows Live.  While this is cool from a consumer perspective, the capabilities here shouldn’t be lost on enterprise applicability.  What the OSC aims to do is bring data to you based on contextual information in the emails you are viewing in Outlook – in most cases the recipient list of the email you are looking at.  The API for creating your own OSC provider is well documented on MSDN.  We even have a sample provider available on the MSDN Code Gallery written by the Outlook product team.  My colleague, Patrick Creehan, even created a sample managed “proxy provider” which can give you a further jump start to creating your own providers for OSC.

The other nice thing about the OSC is that while it’s a new feature, built right into Outlook 2010, you can also download the connector for Outlook 2003 and 2007.  Writing your provider once will cover 99% of the installed base of Outlook users through the same interface.  There’s no fork in the deployment path or requirement for your customers to upgrade to Outlook 2010.  Just as long as you have a version of Outlook shipped in the last 7 years, you’re good to go!

The OSC is a hugely under estimated integration point for Outlook in the corporate world.  Tagging it with the word “social” probably does it an injustice because it isn’t limited to “social” applications.  There are all kinds of corporate data points that would be interesting to pull data from into the OSC.  Things like CRM systems, bug tracking databases, work item lists, source control systems, SharePoint sites, etc.

So while the demos you see of Facebook and Windows Live connectors look like this:


Imagine that you could also have items like:

Rachel Drossman checked in Default.aspx to the project CompanyWebSite

Rachel Drossman opened support incident 10100713123456 owned by Patrick Creehan

The key to making this a compelling integration point is the hyperlinks in the data stream.  Clicking on “Default.aspx” could take you to the change history for that file in source control, click on the “CompanyWebSIte” link could take you to that project.  Click on the support incident number takes you to the CRM tool for tracking customer issues and opens that particular incident.  Think about your internal systems or products and about how richly you can integrate them into Outlook with the OSC.  It’s pretty compelling…