Interesting analysis by fellow Harvard Business blogger John Sviokla about Microsoft’s missed opportunity to enter the social network game:
Microsoft’s Outlook may be the world’s Rolodex, but they have not figured out how to link up all the latent connections that sit inside our Outlook address books. Put another way, they have the ends of the network, but don’t know how to tie them together!
In your email is a latent network of most of the people you know, and how often you talk with them. The Outlook add on – not made by Microsoft – called Xobni (pronounced ZOBNEE, and named for Inbox spelled backwards) looks through all the mail on your machine and figures out who knows whom by who is copied on which emails. In other words, your emails naturally contain your social network. It would be easy for Microsoft to simply ask your permission to contact the people in your email list, and Outlook contact database, and ask them if they were willing to join your Microsoft social network.
There is a ton of social network data in our cell phones (who do you call/text most often? Talk longest with?) and email applications, and a simple app could mine that data and build, or at least enhance, networks from it.
The problem is that for many people Outlook is no longer the primary contact list. Anyone using Linked-in or Facebook depends on those sources as virtual contact lists. Facebook wisely offers to import contacts from many sources when you create your account.
The surprising thing to me is that there isn’t a wikipedia, or craigslist, of social networks. A free, non-corporate, social network that protects it’s users by charter against the pressures of corporate raiding of personal social information.