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Office 365 'Delve': Is This Anything?

Like a few of Microsoft's newer technologies, Delve will either change the way we work for the better -- or be a scrambled mess.

When David Letterman retires, I'll miss "Is This Anything?" I haven't seen one of those skits in years, but they usually involved raising the curtain on two regular performers and one new one. Then Dave and Paul Shaffer would discuss whether the novelty act was "anything."

I'm wondering the same about Microsoft's new Delve technology. Is this anything?

The project has a high profile. The code name "Oslo" had some buzz, and Satya Nadella specifically called out Delve as strategic prior to its release.

Based on the reporting of my colleague Kurt Mackie, Delve is Microsoft's new social networking and search-and-discovery app for Office 365. It became available to select Office 365 subscribers in September with broad delivery to all Office 365 customers planned for early 2015.

Delve is designed to use machine learning technology to automatically pull together information from a user's data sources and present the info in a contextual way. Essentially, it's supposed to anticipate what you need before you know you need it, and present it to you.

Microsoft describes the interface as "card-like"; it looks a little like a Pinterest page.

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's Delve app for Office 365. (Source: Microsoft)

The technology under the covers is interesting. Delve comes partly from the FAST enterprise search technology Microsoft bought in 2008, and is also built on what Microsoft is calling Office Graph technology. Working across Office 365 app silos, Office Graph pulls information from Exchange Online e-mail, SharePoint Online and Yammer with more data sources to come.

I'll admit to mixed feelings. I'm generally impressed with Microsoft's technical chops lately, so I'm confident that the company will get the underlying algorithms right. I have a lower degree of confidence in the ability of Microsoft designers to guess what I want. Intuitive interfaces aren't Microsoft's historical strong suit.

Lately it's been making progress, but the record is mixed. Cortana has gotten some good reviews, and the Windows Phone interface is extremely solid, in my experience. On the other hand, Windows 8 confused a lot of people, and Microsoft has been trying to guess what users want with Microsoft Word for a few decades now. That's a product I work in every day, and it sometimes feels like I'm spending a quarter of my time trying to undo the wrong guesses that Word helpfully and mysteriously made about what I want.

Delve will either work well and create a useful new way to interact with data in Microsoft Office, or the results will be a scrambled mess of noise that gets ignored.

There are plans to create APIs for developers and partners to extend Delve. What's your take? Do you see promise or opportunity in Delve? Let me know at sbekker@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below.

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About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.