The ironic thing is that Microsoft's Outlook is the world's "Rolodex", but they have not figured out how to link up all the latent connections that sit inside our Outlook Address Books. Put another way, they have the ends of the network, but don't know how to link them up!
In your email is a latent network of most of the people you know, and how often you talk with them. The Outlook add on - not made by Microsoft - called Xobni (pronounced ZOBNEE, and named for Inbox spelled backwards) looks through all the mail on your machine and figures out who knows whom by who is copied on which emails. In other words, your emails naturally contain your social network. It would be easy for Microsoft to simply ask your permission to contact the people in your email list, and Outlook contact database, and ask them if they were willing to join your Microsoft social network. Microsoft could either build Xobni-like functionality, or simply buy the firm and they would sprint to the head of the social networking wars.
Who cares? Well, if we look at the history of the internet. First we had the browser wars - Netscape and Internet Explorer - which Microsoft won by a combination of brilliant strategy and brutal tactics. Then came the search wars. Remember Alta Vista, Lycos, Excite? Today they linger today, marginalized by Google who decimated everyone except the struggling Yahoo! and quirky Ask.com. Today search engine marketing is integral to every company's communications plan and firms dispatch staff to buy search words and study the Google search algorithm in that hope that their link comes back on the first page -what is ironically termed "above the fold" - quaintly reminiscent of the newspapers that Google eviscerates so efficiently.
While Google and Microsoft are busy trying to mine your behavior to serve up ads and figure out who you are, LinkedIn's 27 million (and growing) users disgorge reams of personal information, including where they worked, where they now work, who they are, who they know, what their interests are, whether or not they are in the market for a job. Jigsaw and Spoke compete with to be the resource for business contacts.
These companies will not go away, as we are only at the beginning of the social network wars. Eventually, every company will have to work with the winning social network firm or firms, just as almost all companies work with Google and Yahoo! The social network firms have superior access to talent, polling, research, and create a platform for the most targeted advertising on the net with messages aimed at the exact the demographic, title, and industry the advertiser wants to reach.
So, are you using the power of these social networks, or is your company stuck in the pre-network world of Microsoft?