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Making Connections with Outlook Social Connector

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Outlook 2010 comes with a new feature — the Social Connector. This allows you to view social network updates of social feeds like Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace from within Outlook. Is this new Outlook 2010 feature a home run or a dud?

I don't know about you, but my current monitors for work include a 24" and 22" Samsung dual monitor display. Just imagine how much space that is when I take my Outlook and expand it to the size of the screen.

Several years ago, all I would have to show in that space from Outlook is the left side Navigation pane, the working pane (with email or calendars [el]) and possibly the Preview pane on the bottom or right side.

Now, of course, thanks to additional space and some new panes and third-party applications I can add the To-Do bar to my screen (with a calendar, meeting reminders, tasks, and flags), and I even have a Gist pane (http://www.gist.com) that shows me a variety of different social media content for individuals noted in whatever email I happen to be looking at.

But within Outlook 2010 there is something new and built in to show more details and social media information regarding the persons behind the email we receive. It's called the Outlook Social Connector, and it is designed to display information from LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, and Windows Live, all in one location.

You can connect to your SharePoint 2010 server and see the social data of persons within your workplace, including items they've tagged within SharePoint, what items they may have posted, and more.

When you initially begin working with Outlook, you may not see anything in the Social Connector pane, and you can use the down arrow in the top corner of the pane to minimize it from view. However, you can also choose to add connection information by clicking the Add link.

Initially you will only be shown SharePoint. If you select the link you can provide the URL, username, and password (as shown in Figure 1).

If you decide you don't want to use a SharePoint connector (or aren't using SharePoint within your organization), you can select "More Social Network providers available online" at the top. Currently there are only a few to choose from, as mentioned above and shown in Figure 2.

My Take on Outlook Social Connector

The truth is, until there are more connectors available, it is hard to see me dropping my Gist tools. For getting a ton of background "gist" information on a person through Outlook, this tool is already way ahead of the game with Twitter, Facebook, MySpace (etc.) feeds. However, that being said, I doubt Microsoft will be far behind with new connectors being released soon.

Where I see the Outlook Social Connector really shining is when you are working for a company that is connected with SharePoint 2010. There are so many incredible social elements to SharePoint 2010 that may seem like a time waster for some, but are actually being viewed as a company unifier that promotes collaboration from both expected and unexpected sources.

Having the tie-in to your SharePoint Server will really make this feature valuable (if you plan on deploying SharePoint 2010). Aside from that, while I personally will work with my third-party Gist connector, I can see many folks not wanting to play with something new developed third-party and will work with whatever they can do directly in Outlook.

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