Social computing has already changed the way we create and maintain our connections with friends, family, colleagues, companies and more.

However, the world of social computing remains fragmented. The lack of integration creates frustrating disconnects that are inevitable when we are forced to switch between services and applications to stay up to date.

While it may feel as though we’ve arrived at the finish line of social computing, it’s really only the beginning. We’re set for dramatic transformation as technology advances make it possible to weave our social lives more deeply and more seamlessly into every aspect of our digital lives so that information from our social network can provide insights to guide us in the real world and online.

Social computing is one of a number of key trends that we believe will shape the way people work, live, play and connect. Just as it is woven into the fabric of our lives, social computing is woven into Microsoft’s software and hardware groups and has influenced how we partner with the industry. We’ve worked closely with the industry to create and drive the adoption of emerging specifications and industry-wide standards. Some recent examples include:

• Bing. The first major search engine to work deeply with Twitter to collect, analyze and uniquely present real-time Twitter content, Bing also uses Facebook data to make search results more personal, informed by the “likes” of your friends.

• Xbox and Xbox Live. Microsoft pioneered the first online console gaming community, which is the largest in the world today with more than 25 million users who spend more than 1 billion hours a month on the service. Xbox Live is also integrated with the great services from our friends at Facebook and Twitter, and we recently added Video Kinect, which  makes sure you’re always in the frame and can video chat with Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger friends through your TV.

• Office. The Outlook Social Connector integrates with industry-leading social networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Windows Live, to offer users seamless access to their social media right inside the world’s most popular e-mail application. We also are seeing strong adoption of our recently released Office Web Apps with 20 million users across four countries in the first 100 days of launch. Docs.com brings Office right into Facebook.

• Windows Phone 7. Users and reviewers have lauded the Windows Phone 7 support of and integration with social media in a way that is fundamental and distinct from any other mobile device, from smart design that places peoples’ social media at the center of the experience to the support of rich social apps. For example, instead of drilling into a specific social app for updates, “social” information from services such as Facebook is automatically surfaced for the person in your contact list that you’re calling or texting. Windows Phone 7 has been called “the most exciting thing to happen to phones in a long time” (Matt Buchanan, Gizmodo).

• Windows Live Essentials. Windows Live Essentials 2011 supports deep integration across the board. Windows Live messenger users can connect to their friends on Facebook chat, Yahoo! Messenger, Microsoft Lync and Xbox and also comment on social updates from more than 75 websites. Windows Live Mail connects to Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail Plus and other e-mail services to help. Windows Live Photo Gallery users can upload photos directly to Flickr and YouTube as well as Windows Live SkyDrive. With Windows Live Essentials, we’ve sought to work closely with partners across the industry on key standards, including OAuth WRAP, Portable Contacts and Activity Streams. My own personal favorite is Windows Live Writer, which was used to publish this post. It is considered by many to be the best blog authoring tool — it plays nicely with Wordpress.com, Blogger, TypePad and many more blogging services.

Beyond these specific products, there is a group within Microsoft Research called FUSE Labs —short for Future Social Experiences. Spread across labs in the U.S. and U.K., this team is a mix of designers, developers and user-experience experts who work across the industry and with internal partners to dream up and develop new social experiences. Best of all, they release their projects into the wild in alpha and beta form for everyone to play with. They’ve created some great products over the past year or so, including these:

• Montage. This shareable, personal, visual album of the Web allows you to design a personal “montage” around a topic by adding content that pulls information from a variety of sources, including RSS feeds, Twitter, Bing News, YouTube, video and Bing Images. My take on Montage and potential usage can be found on the Next at Microsoft blog, here.

• Project Emporia. This  personalized news service sifts through the ever-evolving Web content streams to identify hot stories, categorize them into topic areas, rank them and then present them to you in a friendly browser-based user interface.

• Docs for Facebook. This application allows you to discover, create and share Microsoft Office documents with your Facebook friends.

• Spindex. This application brings all of your social world to one page.

• Social Gadgets. This set of embeddable widgets visualize Twitter real-time data.

• Team Crossword. This application makes the age-old crossword puzzle a social experience that you can solve with friends.

With all of this, I hope you get the sense that we’re excited about social, and we’ll continue to work across the industry and “bake” social into our products and services!

For more on Microsoft’s social computing efforts, as well as other technologies and the people the people behind them at Microsoft, check out the Next at Microsoft blog.

Posted by Steve Clayton
Microsoft Storyteller