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Microsoft's Office Delve wants work to be more like being on Facebook

Office Graph, social features for Office 365 going public

Microsoft on Monday began rolling out its promised social-networking features for Office 365, in the form of a product it has freshly dubbed Office Delve.

The tech, which was first unveiled at Redmond's SharePoint conference in March under the codename "Project Oslo," aims to present Office 365 users with the information that's most relevant to them by using machine learning to analyze their contacts, activity, and data.

Key to Delve is what Microsoft is calling the Office Graph, a behind-the-scenes map of various data sources from Office 365, which so far include email, files stored in the OneDrive for Business storage cloud, SharePoint Online, and Yammer.

Microsoft said more data sources will be added over the next few months, with email attachments, OneNote notebooks, and Lync conversations being three likely candidates.

If you're thinking you detect a whiff of Facebook in this scheme, you'd be right – Facebook first showed off its own Graph Search feature in January 2013, having built it in-house without any input from Microsoft, its erstwhile search partner.

While Facebook's Graph Search helps you navigate the cosmos of cat videos and drunken political rants, however, Microsoft is now hoping it can bring similar technology to bear on workplace collaboration.

"With Delve, information finds you versus you having to find information," Office 365 product manager Julia White said in a blog post, adding that Delve's card-based UI is "beautiful" – a usage that once again makes us wonder whether Microsoft product managers ever actually leave the house.

Redmond plans to make Delve available as a standard feature for all qualifying Office 365 business subscriptions at no additional cost, but it will be rolled out in phases.

First to get it will be Office 365 Enterprise, Academic, and Government customers who have opted into Microsoft's First Release program, which offers early access to select new features before they reach general availability.

Following that initial pilot phase, customers who have signed up for First Release and who are on the Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium, and Midsize Business plans will be able to access Delve beginning in January 2015, with mainstream availability to follow over the next few months. ®

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