Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

Summary:A number of Web pundits have suggested during the past year-plus that Microsoft should buy Twitter. (An equal number have advocated for Google to buy the company and save it from Microsoft's clutches.) Would a Microsoft buy -- if Twitter's founders ever entertained such an idea -- make sense for the Redmondians?

A number of Web pundits have suggested during the past year-plus that Microsoft should buy Twitter. (An equal number have advocated for Google to buy the company and save it from Microsoft's clutches.)

Would a Microsoft buy -- if Twitter's founders ever entertained such an idea -- make sense for the Redmondians? CEO Steve Ballmer said this week that he's not convinced such a move would make sense for Microsoft. But he didn't say Microsoft hadn't considered such a move or that it might not in the future.

Search Engine Land Editor-in-Chief Danny Sullivan had a chance to quiz Ballmer about all things search-related during a March 2 Search and Marketing Expo West (SMX) keynote.

Here's the pair's exchange about Twitter (from the transcript):

DANNY SULLIVAN: You mentioned Twitter. Buy them, should you be buying them? Should you get them out there, they’ve got that great data, shouldn’t you just own the whole company and have it out there?

STEVE BALLMER: Not clear. I mean, we have a great relationship and partnership with Twitter. Not clear to me. I mean, I would hate to not have that partnership. Whether we need to own the company or not I think is far less clear. In some senses, as an independent, they have a lot of value and a lot of credibility, I think, with their user community. Would they have that same credibility with the user community if they were captive? Not clear. And they want to be an independent company, which means we want to have a great partnership with them, and do a good job.

If Ballmer had no interest in Twitter, he'd say so, I'd think, given he's not a guy afraid to speak his mind. But the way he phrased his answer ("not clear to me") made me think Microsoft may have sniffed around and may still be sniffing....

The bigger question for Microsoft watchers is what would Microsoft do with Twitter if Ballmer ever had a chance to buy the company? Would Twitter become the "real time search" division within Microsoft's Online Systems Business? Would Microsoft use the Twitter technology to create yet another SharePoint tentacle? Would Microsoft put some of the Twitter brains into its FUSE Lab, which is charged with incorporating social-computing technologies into Microsoft products? Or would Microsoft keep Twitter at arm's length, and let it run as is as a quasi-independent subsidiary?

A year ago, before I had joined Twitter, I wrote a post entitled "Microsoft shouldn't buy Twitter," which got me lots of hate mail from Twitter backers and the Web 2.0 crowd in general. Would I say the same today? I'm on the fence. Twitter still has yet to launch ads or any other money-making scheme, but it's still around and still relevant to many techie and non-techie users.

It's all speculation at this point, of course, especially given Ballmer's acknowledgement that Twitter "want(s) to be an independent company." But do you see reasons Microsoft could and should try to buy Twitter?

Meanwhile, speaking of speculation, how about Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz's claim that if she had been running Yahoo when Microsoft first approached the company to acquire it, she'd have gone through with the deal? Whew... I bet Ballmer's glad Bartz joined the company after talks had fizzled... especially given the fact that Microsoft's acquired a lot of Yahoos in the past or two, and is going to be supplying Yahoo's Web search results for the next ten years -- all without having to shell out $50 billion....

Topics: Social Enterprise, Banking, Browser, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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