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Microsoft Jumps Into Social Networks With Finance Community

Microsoft's getting into social networking. Yes, you read that right. But it's not what you think.

This won't be a simple MySpace or Facebook knockoff. Instead, Microsoft will be announcing a series of communities focused around worker roles, starting today with a curiously as-yet-unnamed (users will choose among three names in a vote) site for finance professionals. Later in the year, Microsoft plans to announce communities for sales and marketing professionals and operations workers, possibly followed by human resources and information technology.

"We've been thinking for a while about, is there a desire or a need for communities where businesspeople can connect, not on technology issues, but on business issues," said Craig Dewar, director of community marketing for Microsoft.

The big question is why people would go to Microsoft for professional social networking? There already are places like LinkedIn or even upcoming platforms such as IBM's Connections that will allow companies and industries to build their own social networking sites. Social networks might be a me-too technology these days, but a network's only as good as its users. Experts might go somewhere like CFO Magazine for social networking, but Dewar said Microsoft looked around and found that none of the finance magazines' Web sites had any such community features.

To bring folks in, the company will do some evangelism with existing Microsoft customers and send community invites to all the finance professionals at this week's Convergence conference for Dynamics users. Dewar said the main draw lies in software, which can be used as launch pads to enroll new users. Microsoft's newest version of its Dynamics GP enterprise resource planning software includes a feature that acts as a link to the online community, and the company intends to soon include that capability in the rest of its ERP and customer relationship management products. Eventually, Dewar said, Microsoft's ERP and CRM software will bring in more community functions, say, by serving relevant blogs right to the desktop.

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