As we reported earlier this year, Microsoft's been working on a new social network that combines search with social networking features. Today, the Microsoft Research blog announced the official launch of So.cl (pronounced "social"), and it appears to be an experimental research tool for students. FUSE Labs general Manager Lili Cheng told the Microsoft Research Blog, "I am surprised by the amount of frustration and the lack of design innovation in the design of everyday tools such as search, social networking, text messaging, and email." So.cl, then, is a way to make it easier for students to explore topics and riff off of each others' finds. To start, it's a small launch today at "information and design schools" at the University of Washington, Syracuse University, and New York University, and Microsoft expects it to supplement, not replace, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

So.cl appears to be much like what we saw in November, sharing your searches with your contacts. Each of your searches will filter out to the rest of your friend network, and you'll be able to browse, like, comment on, and tag your friends' searches. By default, searches are public, but you do have the option of setting them to private. The video party feature is also here, and it lets you quickly assemble a playlist of clips from YouTube and view with a group of friends. We just tried signing up through Facebook, but we're defaulting to the So.cl waiting list page.