TechEd 2010: Outlook Social Connector – Deployment & Development Overview

John R. Durant presenting at TechEd 2010The final afternoon of TechEd began for me with Microsoft Senior Product Manager John R. Durant's spirited session, Outlook Social Connector: Deployment and Development Overview.  John was easily the most engaging speaker I saw in New Orleans this week, enthusiastically interacting with the audience throughout his presentation and showing his own enthusiasm by standing on chairs and speakers, at one point even leaping from a chair in the front row to the stage.  In short, John is a dynamic presenter, and if you ever get the chance to see him speak, I highly recommend doing so.

Outlook Social Connector (OSC) brings people-centric data views into Outlook, or, as John put it, OSC is about "bringing Personal Information Management (PMI) into Outlook."  And since it's connected to SharePoint, OSC "can pull data from wherever Windows Desktop Search (WDS) can search," but that's not all.  One of the sexiest features (and certainly the one guaranteed to get the most press) is that it's also possible to pull feeds from social sites such as LinkedIn and MySpace (with Facebook already announced as coming soon) into Outlook via the OSC…but even that's not all.  Since OSC uses an open API, you can also create your own provider, and this was the focus of John's presentation. 

There are a couple of items of note worth mentioning before I jump into the demo material:  John explained that OSC ships with Office 2010, but the OCS core engine is also available for Outlook 2003 and 2007; and OSC is not dependent on Exchange 2010.

In his demo, John explained that if a social network doesn't make an API available, it's not possible for OSC to pull a feed, but since LinkedIn is one of the networks which does make its API available, John demonstrated their feed in the People Pane in Outlook 2010, showing that an update had made to a LinkedIn connection's profile.  John showed the location of the People Pane button/icon in the Outlook Ribbon (it's one of the options under the View tab) which is where the controls for the management of your People Pane live.  Similarly, in the Account Settings area, you'll be able to see which social networks you currently have installed.

In response to a question regarding storage of the feed data from a member of the audience, John explained that "Not all social networks allow you to download their feed information and store it locally."  LinkedIn does allow local storage/caching of the feed data, however, and as John explained, that information is stored in a folder that's hidden by default in Outlook.

Regarding extensibility of OSC, John stated that: the plan of record is that each social network implement its own OSC provider (here's LinkedIn for Outlook, and here's MySpace for Outlook); provider is a COM-visible DLL loaded by OSC add-in running in-process with Outlook; and to write a provider, use any development tool that can create a COM component DLL.  OSC interfaces in version 1.0 include: ISocialProvider, ISocialSession, ISocialProfile, and ISocialPerson.

John explained that the "more challenging part is getting the feed information, parsing that information then giving it to the OSC engine … that's the bigger challenge for you [developers]."   John moved on to a demo of how to create a test provider, and strongly recommended the detailed reference documentation authored by Randy Byrne for MSDN, Developing an Outlook Social Connector Provider for Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007, and Outlook 2003.  John also recommended the Outlook Sample: Outlook Social Connector Provider (also on MSDN) which includes several provider templates (in C++, C#, and Visual Basic). 

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