Introducing the Outlook Social Connector

Today at PDC09 they finally announced a product that I’ve been itching to talk about for a long time.  In March at the MVP Summit, the Outlook product team gave us Outlook MVPs a private demonstration of the Outlook Social Connector (OSC).  For those of you running the Office 2010 Beta, you may have seen this and been wondering what it is.

So what is it?  The OSC is a set of features designed to help users keep track of friends and colleagues while enabling them to grow their professional network.  It is an add-in distributed with Outlook 2010 and will be available as a free download for Outlook 2003 and 2007!

In essence – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it – has arrived in Outlook in a very cool way.

The implementation is via an extension to the Reading Pane (and inside open e-mail messages):

peoplepane

The purpose is to present contextual relevant information about the person who sent you the e-mail.  The top panel shows the name and title of the person currently selected, which can be changed by clicking the thumbnail photos (or the photo placeholder icon for those without a photo) at the right side of the strip.  You can also click the two person icon at the end to flip the pane to a thumbnail photo view for all recipients and senders in the current e-mail:

photopane

Back in the main view of the People Pane, there are six icons aligned vertically:

  • Home – All Items
  • RSS – Activities
  • Mail
  • Attachments
  • Meetings
  • Status Updates

Each of these areas will show information either from Outlook or elements exposed via whatever providers for the OSC are currently installed.  The icons will be provider specific. Which brings me to this dialog, which you can see by clicking the Add button in the People Pane:

splashpage

Following this wizard brings up this screen:

accounts

Since I don’t have SharePoint 2010 installed yet, the info I’m getting for the OSC is just standard Outlook data, like e-mails and appointments related to the current thread.

Obviously, Twitter and Facebook providers are imminent!  However, the link in the dialog for a listing of online providers is currently not live.

The Implementation

Anyway, how does this all work?  Essentially, all related people in your provider’s network will be stored as Outlook Contacts.  This data will either be cached or permanent and stored in provider specific Contact folders.  For locally cached Contacts, I believe they are synchronized with the Global Address List and then the default Contacts folder, but I need to confirm how this works.

For Activities, these items will be stored in the root News Feed folder, with sub-folders for each installed provider.  This folder also contains a folder home page (no screenshot yet) that will:

  • Display “My Network News”
  • Aggregate info from the Contacts in all providers
  • Set your status updates (as per Facebook)
  • Add “People You May Know” from a list of suggested people

Entries in the feed will show information like:

  • “Joan added new photos”
  • “Dave authored a new blog post”
  • “Fred added a colleague”
  • “Denise is Out Of Office until [Date]”
  • “Abe created a new Word document “Foo1.docx”

So what’s it all mean?  The scenarios for the end user leveraging the OSC are pretty basic:

  • Build your professional network
  • Keep track of people in your networks
  • Find out what you need to know about the people you communicate with
  • Fully deployable with policies and configuration settings

You can obviously imagine that the possibilities are endless!  Since this is an open framework, we will be seeing plug-ins appear for an increasing list of providers – some built by the official caretaker of the provider data and some built by the community, ISVs or social networking companies. I wonder how many Facebook or Twitter providers will pop-up?  I wonder if the defacto Facebook provider will be built by Facebook themselves, or by some 14 year-old programmer in their room?  Will they be free? $29.99? Subscription based?  Regardless, this is going to be a very interesting market!

Stay tuned for more posts I have in the works, especially on how the SharePoint provider works and details on the provider architecture and how developers can build their own provider services for use with the OSC.

More information is available on the Outlook Team Blog, which just got published:

http://blogs.msdn.com/outlook/archive/2009/11/18/announcing-the-outlook-social-connector.aspx

Eric Legault

Microsoft Outlook MVP (15 yrs). Author: Microsoft Office 2013 Pro Step By Step. Consultant/speaker/Outlook add-in builder/SharePoint pioneer. Guitarist: Maiden Canada (Iron Maiden tribute band)

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