Google and Microsoft both recognize that e-mail is losing its centrality as the way that people communicate with one another electronically. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are beginning to take center stage.
That's bad news for Microsoft and Google, and both companies are looking for a way to keep e-mail pre-eminent. To do that Google recently released Google Buzz as part of Gmail, and Microsoft released beta of the Outloook Social Connector for Outlook. The Outlook Social Connector works with Outlook 2003, 2007, and the upcoming 2010.
Google Buzz is decidely underwhelming. It's confusing to use, has raised enough privacy concerns that it's spawned a lawsuit, and doesn't really integrate well with Gmail. It's a rare mis-step from a company that has become the premier engineering company on the planet.
The Outlook Social Connector, by way of contrast, took a solid first step toward turning e-mail into the central hub of communications -- it integrates social networking directly into e-mail. At the moment, it only works with LinkedIn, but Facebook and MySpace connections are in the works. I'd be shocked if eventually it didn't work with Twitter as well. As I write in my review for Computerworld, it pulls information from LinkedIn and integrates it with e-mail. You can see people's current status and updates right within Outlook, and see all of your communications with people -- e-mail as well as via social networking -- in a single location.
Is it perfect? Far from it. Right now, communication is one-way, so that you can't update your LinkedIn status from inside Outlook. And the Outlook Social Connector lacks other nifty features that the free Xobni Outlook add-in has.
Still, it's a solid first step, and far superior to Google Buzz. Even though it's in beta, it's well worth trying out.