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To date, Microsoft’s answer to those who wondered whether the software giant would ever introduce its own social networking service was that it was pursuing an integration strategy which allows popular services like Facebook and Twitter to integrate into its platform products. But this week, Microsoft introduced a social network of its own, the awkwardly named So.cl (and, yes, it’s pronounced as “social”). But rather than being a full-fledged competitor to Facebook or Twitter, Microsoft says So.cl is simply an experiment, and aimed mostly at students.

“So.cl combines social networking and search, to help people find and share interesting web pages in the way students do when they work together,” a document on the So.cl web site reads. “[It] helps you create rich posts, by assembling montages of visual web content. To encourage interaction and collaboration, So.cl provides rich media sharing, and real time sharing of videos via ‘video parties’.”

Microsoft says it expects students to continue using mainstream social networking services as well as search engines such as Google Search and Bing. But So.cl is aimed at reimagining how student research, learn, and share.

The launch of So.cl came softly, without any official announcement. And it doesn’t help that it was opened up to the public on the same day in which Facebook launched its historic IPO. (So.cl was previously available only to students at the University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University.) But it’s available now if you’d like to check it out.

So what does it do?

You know, it’s kind of hard to say. Some of the key So.cl functionality—it can replace your browser’s search provider and let you share searches with Facebook and/or Windows Live contacts—is available now in Bing, which is both far more accessible and mainstream. I don’t know. Seems kind of pointless. What am I missing here?