By Harry McCracken | Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:39 am
Last November, Microsoft announced an add-on for Outlook called the Social Connector. At first, it only worked with new social networking features in the company’s SharePoint 2010 intranet platform. On Tuesday, it got interesting even for Outlook users who aren’t on SharePoint, as Microsoft and LinkedIn announced LinkedIn for Outlook, which uses the Social Connector to weave together the Outlook and LinkedIn experiences. (Microsoft says that similar features for Facebook and MySpace are on their way.)
LinkedIn for Outlook brings everyone you’re connected to on LinkedIn into Outlook in the form of a contact list that auto-updates itself as folks change their information on LinkedIn. Outlook’s new People Pane lets you view info about people (and their LinkedIn photo) as you view e-mail from them. It’s all very handy, and it instantly increases the value of LinkedIn (a service I’ve belonged to for years without benefitting much). It’s especially nifty when you don’t know a LinkedIn contact very well and could use a refresher on just who he or she is.
LinkedIn for Outlook and the whole idea of bringing social-network contacts into Outlook are promising, but getting the beta version to work is weirdly and needlessly complex. Some people who installed it–such as my friend Sam Diaz–found that Outlook crashed after installing LinkedIn. By the time I tried this evening, Microsoft had updated its blog post, explaining that users of the beta version of Outlook 2010 needed to uninstall the version of the Social Connector that came with the Office 2010 beta and install a new update before installing LinkedIn. (The Social Connector and LinkedIn also work in Office 2003 and Office 2007.)
The download page at LinkedIn’s site still doesn’t mention this gotcha. In fact, it seems to say that Office 2010 users don’t need the Social Connector at all. And both the LinkedIn download page and the installation program are vague about exactly how to use LinkedIn once it’s installed within Outlook. A quick tutorial would help a lot.
Come to think of it, I’m foggy on why Outlook users need to worry about a separate piece of software called the Social Connector at all, and why the LinkedIn functionality can’t be added from within Outlook itself. Of course, Outlook, the Social Connector, and LinkedIn for Outlook are all still in beta. Maybe by the time Office 2010 ships this summer, all of this will be a lot closer to seamless.