Microsoft gives me more reason to write about them. A few days back they purchased WebFives, a Seattle based, Mobile focused, Social Networking Site for an amount that has not been disclosed to the media.
(I think the amount has not been disclosed because its simply not newsworthy enough – I doubt its anywhere close to Microsoft’s minority stake in Facebook!)
One also needs to note that Microsoft has not made a ‘community buy’ (‘buying’ the users who are already a part of the social network); it has only acquired the technology of WebFives. WebFives is thus slated to stop at the end of this year and their users will not migrate to wherever Microsoft take WebFives.
Part of the reason why Microsoft may have only considered a technology buyout is that webfives.com probably has as many visitors as my personal blog (actually maybe a few more but what the hell I like to feel good about myself!) according to site analytics at compete.com.
So it’s quite clear that Microsoft is going to do nothing with the WebFives brand – it will probably fade into oblivion.
I think theres a bigger reason why Microsoft acquired only the technologies of WebFives.
If one looks at it, WebFives offers all the standard Social 2.0 services such as blogging, photoshare, videoshare, slideshare, audioshare – the works. The biggest asset of WebFives however is the fact that it has a facility where content (photos, videos, audio) can be uploaded directly from the mobile phones of users.
Users who sign up for WebFives generally have an account like www.webfives.com/user (much like blogger etc). What they also have is a WAP account. WAP or Wireless Application Protocol is an open international standard for applications that use wireless communication. Its principal application is to enable access to the Internet from a mobile phone or PDA.
So essentially this indicates that Social Networking is soon going to be shared between the PC and the mobile platform. I think Microsoft may just be catching the right trend this time round because as an observer I have noticed that people like to check their social networks anytime they get an opportunity to!
One also needs to know that the quantity of conversations on social networks is steadily increasing and that is feeding the ‘I need to check my account’ mindset.
WAP has its flaws. Also, gadgets like the iPhone that make the internet surfing experience on phones great (because they have successfully been able to migrate computer based web browsers like Mac’s Safari to the mobile format) prove to be worthy competitors. So im not sure how Microsoft will use the WAP format but they surely will use the learnings that WebFives has accumulated in creating a mobile page to help in optimizing all their content (Windows Live etc.) for mobile devices. This is mandatory as social 2.0 content for mobile phones needs to be fine-tuned and presented in a different way for optimization.
I also see, the technology of WebFives being integrated into Windows Live services to strengthen their already strong offering and make it more ‘engaging’ i.e. allow members to interact more easily (which is not Windows Live’s USP).
Another interesting point to note is that WebFives has widgets that can be embedded into social networks such as Facebook, Hi5, MySpace, and very soon, Orkut.
So its quite clear that Microsoft is trying to create bridge between user generated content and Social 2.0, which is smart. Think about it, how many people who blog, actively blog on Facebook or MySpace . So there’s a void here which can be filled using the technologies of WebFives. A bridge between the 2 pillars of Social 2.0 so to speak. Flickr has already followed a similar strategy on Facebook with much success.
With such a move I also see the services of Windows Live and Facebook getting more closely related. Actually not just Facebook – all the other social networking sites as well! It seems like Windows Live will now be deeply integrated into social networks.
WebFives, unlike Facebook, is probably a low key investment for Microsoft, but one that holds a lot of keys for its integration and future strategy development plans in order to optimize the returns generated by web 2.0 and social 2.0.