Today, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector (OSC) Beta (February Update).

The Outlook Social Connector is a Microsoft Outlook add-in that connects to social and business networks, including Microsoft SharePoint or other popular third-party sites, so users can stay in touch with the people in their networks without leaving Outlook. The Outlook Social Connector shows activities in the People Pane that appears at the bottom of the Outlook explorer window.

If you are in the business of social networks, consider using OSC provider extensibility to develop an OSC provider for your social network. The Outlook Social Connector is built on an open provider model, encouraging social network sites to build providers to work with the Outlook Social Connector to display social network data in Outlook. Using an OSC provider for your social network, your customers will be able to view friends' activities, photos, status updates, and grow on your social network while they are on Outlook without having to switch to a browser.

As announced today, with LinkedIn already providing a beta release of LinkedIn for Outlook, and Facebook and MySpace having scheduled to release their OSC providers later this year, Outlook users will be able to view friends' udpates in multiple professional and social networks all within Outlook, and be assured that their privacy settings in each network are still respected while they're using the Outlook Social Connector. Customers will appreciate that the Outlook Social Connector does not add another professional or social network into the mix. The Outlook Social Connector does offer busy people, who are already a part of one or several networks, convenience – not confusion. The Outlook Social Connector has been getting favorably compared in many circles, for example, on Yahoo News.

Using LinkedIn as an example, their OSC provider brings together the most popular professional network with the world’s leading professional inbox. Here are some of the things that a user can do with LinkedIn:

  • Connect to the user's LinkedIn account to view the user's colleagues’ status updates and photos right next to an e-mail they just sent to the user.
  • Get the user's colleagues’ latest contact info from LinkedIn updated into their contact cards in Outlook. Whenever someone changes a phone number, e-mail address, or other contact details, the user will have it synced with Outlook so the user will always be up-to-date.
  • Synchronize the user's mobile phone with Outlook to stay up-to-date — the user doesn’t have to worry about keeping track of new phone numbers and contact info — contacts’ information from the Web is synchronized to the user's mobile phone.
  • Grow the user's professional network directly from within the user's inbox.

To find out more about LinkedIn for Outlook, see Outlook Gets Social with LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace on the Outlook team blog.

Even though the Outlook Social Connector is being released the same year as Outlook 2010, the Outlook Social Connector and OSC extensibility apply to not only Outlook 2010, but also Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. If your social network offers an OSC provider, you will benefit from the reach of Outlook over the most recent three versions, and users who are not early adopters of Outlook 2010 will still be able to connect to your social network via the Outlook Social Connector on any of these earlier versions of Outlook.

OSC provider extensibility specifies a set of interfaces and an XML schema. An OSC provider implements these interfaces (ISocialProvider, ISocialSession, ISocialProfile, and ISocialPerson). After the provider is installed on a supported version of Outlook, the data from the social network will become available to Outlook so that a user will be able to view social data in the context of the Outlook user interface. To learn about writing an OSC provider for your social network, see Developing an Outlook Social Connector Provider. You can also download a set of OSC provider templates and an example of an OSC provider at Outlook Sample: Outlook Social Connector Provider.

If you are interested in developing a provider for your social network or line-of-business application, please send e-mail to oscprex@microsoft.com.