Microsoft weaving social networks into Office 2010

Microsoft is weaving popular social networking services into its latest generation Outlook email program, to be released with an Office 2010 set of applications later this year.

Software that channels LinkedIn updates to Outlook inboxes was available online Wednesday at linkedin.com/outlook for people dabbling with a test version of the popular email program.

Microsoft is working with Facebook and MySpace to do the same with content from those online communities, according to Outlook Office group product manager Dev Balasubramanian.

“It really is about bringing friends, family, and colleagues into your inbox,” Balasubramanian said in a video posted at the US software giant’s website.

“As you communicate with them you can see their social activities; you can see all of the folks in your social network and it updates as you are reading your email.”

The LinkedIn connection to Outlook lets people using the email program stay in tune with any changes in job status, contact information, or affiliations being shared by friends at the career-focused online community.

“LinkedIn is all about your professional network,” said Elliot Shmukler, product management director at LinkedIn, which reports having 60 million members.

“Meanwhile, Outlook powers the professional inbox so the match is very clear.”

The test version of Outlook is available online at office.com/beta.

Microsoft’s announcement came shortly after rival Google ran into trouble with a new Buzz social networking tool added to its free email service Gmail.

Google Buzz was launched with a feature that automatically created public social networks based on the Gmail contacts people most frequently sent messages to.

A number of commentators noted that they did not necessarily want their email contacts made public like Facebook friends.

On Friday the service was modified so that Gmail users have to create a Google Buzz public profile and will be notified that “lists of people you follow and the people following you will be displayed on your public profile.”

Google Buzz allows Gmail users to get updates about what friends are doing online and offers ways to share video, photos and other digitized snippets.

Google Buzz has been described by some technology analysts as a direct challenge by Google to social networking stars Facebook and Twitter.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Wednesday filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into whether the original Buzz wrongly disclosed too much information about people.

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