Microsoft testing prototype of Facebook-like social network

Office Labs testing TownSquare network sought by Office, SharePoint developers

At the request of its SharePoint and Office product development teams, Microsoft's Office Labs operation has created and is testing a prototype of an internal social network that can provide employees with feeds and updates about their colleagues.

Chris Pratley, general manager of Office Labs, is slated to disclose details of the prototype - called TownSquare - Thursday at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. He spoke to Computerworld today about the project, which was launched in January and has already been used by about 8,000 Microsoft employees.

With a layout that is strikingly similar to Facebook.com's (in which Microsoft invested US$240 million in October 2007), TownSquare is fueled by enterprise news feeds that use Web services to query SharePoint for public information, such as promotions and company anniversaries, about an employee.

TownSquare also notifies users when a document or file is modified. Users can customize their feeds and monitor who is receiving information about them.

In early January, Pratley's group told 100 Microsoft employees about the network. Since then, 8,000 employees who learned of TownSquare by word of mouth have visited the network at least once, Pratley noted. About 700 use it daily.

Some Microsoft customers, which he declined to name, are testing the TownSquare network for use in their companies.

Office Labs works as a sort of advance development team that tests technology concepts suggested by employees and, as in this case, development teams. Pratley stressed that TownSquare is not a product, but a platform to test the technology concepts. By hammering out the various likes and dislikes of its users before releasing a product, "We're trying to get version three goodness into a first release," he added.

"We have instrumentation -- so we know which things people use," Pratley noted. "We share that with the client teams we work with. They take the knowledge about usage so they don't make so many mistakes in product design."

Many third party vendors have targeted SharePoint as the core data source for information to feed their enterprise social networking and other Enterprise 2.0 applications. Several have announced upgrades to their products or new integration with SharePoint this week at the conference.

Anecdotal evidence has shown that employees like the TownSquare tool, Pratley noted. Employees especially appreciate being able to monitor the creation and editing of documents by colleagues, he added. One employee used the network to find a sponsor within Microsoft to fund her trip to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

"That is the kind of information that spreads through an enterprise social network," he said. "By posting it out there, the people interested can pick up on it, and other people can ignore it. It's a way to keep in touch in a social way with people you work with."

Like Facebook, TownSquare also includes a photos of users and allows them to note when they are away from their workstations, such as at a meeting or in the cafeteria for coffee.

While some employees have expressed initial surprise at all the information that Microsoft has about them in its intranet, once people see the type of information that is included in the feeds about them, "they see it's pretty safe stuff and say okay," Pratley said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Heather Havenstein

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

Taking cybersecurity to the highest level and order now for a special discount on the world’s most awarded and trusted cybersecurity. Be aware without a care!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?