Microsoft expands social network Socl screenshot Users are invited to build visual collages of their search results and share them with others

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Microsoft has opened up to the wider public its version of a social network, which allows users to share content in an online gallery similar to Pinterest.

Socl - pronounced "social" - allows users to create visual posts. It is powered by Microsoft's search engine Bing.

It has been in private beta test mode for a year and in May was given a low-key launch, aimed mainly at students.

Now anyone with a Facebook or Microsoft account is able to sign up.

Socl was developed by Microsoft's Fuse Labs unit as a "research project... focused on the future of social experiences and learning".

On the website, Microsoft made it clear that it did not intend to go head to head with Facebook or other social networks.

"Socl is an experimental research project with a minimal set of features," it said.

As part of the wider launch, Microsoft has redesigned the homepage of the website.

Users are invited to create "rich, visual collages" based on interests. The posts can be shared on Facebook or Twitter.

Regional interest

There is a People hub, which allows users to discover other profiles and posts, and a Me page that displays their own.

Users can also create video parties, for which they can make a playlist, watch online videos or chat with others.

Richard Edwards, an analyst at research firm Ovum, said that, while the Western world was saturated with social sites, other regions were "ripe for a new type of social network".

Currently the site is most popular in India, according to Google Trends, which monitors search terms around the globe.

Google Trends also maps interest in the site and its data suggests that it peaked mid-year but has since died off, which may throw light on why Microsoft is relaunching the site.

"When it launched in May, Facebook was IPO-ing [initial public offering, of shares] and shortly afterwards Microsoft acquired Yammer so perhaps it didn't want to confuse the market with too many social networks," said Mr Edwards.

Its relaunch could be tied into future products.

"It seems to be geared to tablet devices. There are also rumours that Microsoft could be bringing out an Xbox-style device. The plans for Socl could be linked to as yet unannounced parts of its strategy," said Mr Edwards.

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