When it comes to large tech companies and how they’ve fared with social networking, one could argue that Microsoft is the most successful.

Google has struggled to build viable homegrown social networks, Yahoo has largely done little of note, AOL purchased Bebo for $850m only to drive it into the ground, etc.

Microsoft’s claim to success in the social space? A $240m investment in Facebook in 2007 which valued the social network at $15bn.

But apparently betting on the right horse wasn’t satisfying enough for Microsoft. If the launch of Socl, its new social network, is any indication, it wants in on the race.

Microsoft says Socl “is an experimental research project, developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.” Initially, the Redmond software giant is partnering with a number of universities to launch. Sound familiar?

According to Microsoft’s description of Socl, which is available at so.cl, it would appear that a big part of Socl is the idea of merging social networking and search. Which makes a lot of sense given the company’s huge investment in search.

But as one can gather from the excellent overview of Socl written by Marketing Land’s Danny Sullivan, it would appear that Microsoft has taken some inspiration from elsewhere. Specifically, Socl’s ‘video parties’ look a lot like Hangouts on Google+.

Microsoft says it “expect[s] students to continue using products such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other existing social networks, as well as Bing, Google and other search tools,” which raises the question: why launch a social network?

Given Facebook’s dominance, Google’s challenges building Google+ into a viable social networking contender, and the long list of could-have-been or have-been social networking ventures created, bought or supported by major tech companies, the safe assumption to make is that Microsoft really is looking at its new social network as an experiment. While that doesn’t mean that a mainstream launch for Socl is an impossibility down the road, right now that seems highly unlikely.