Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

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?

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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 has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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33 comments
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  • Twitter = Jump The Shark

    Twitter is the 'jumping the shark' for social networking. In two years it'll be mostly forgotten, with Facebook and others providing basically the same service plus lots more. Microsoft should stick to its knitting and focus on putting out better software.
    JFNet
    • Twitter has no business model

      Certainly a flash in the pan
      LBiege
  • Stay away from Twitter

    ...for now. I'm not sure Microsoft would really know what to do with Twitter right now. So I say they should continue to establish a good partnership with them.
    rjohn05
  • RE: Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

    Dear gawd, no. Please.
    tculler@...
  • Not sure of the value.

    Basically, a 140 character micro blogging site. It is sort of like an Internet chat that prevents you from being long winded. Do I tweet? Sure but if the service went down right now, I wouldn't miss it. It has some value but not as much as Facebook or other social media sites. If you could somehow put together a bunch of tweets about a subject and publish it, it might have some more use.
    mr1972
    • Rails and Scala

      These could help Microsoft grok Web 2.0. That would be helpful to
      Microsoft.
      shis-ka-bob
  • only to keep Google from it

    I don't think MS should buy it, that might just give it the kiss off death because even if they buy it and leave it as it the association with the 800 pound gorrila would sour people, but neither should Google buy it, the souring effect may be less but it still looks like Google will be trying to be like MS by purchasing every threat to their empire, at some point they become MS, if they have not already.

    Will the government even let MS buy it?
    eggmanbubbagee@...
  • Perfect fit

    Twitter = 0 Value
    Microsoft = 0 Value

    sounds perfect.
    itguy08
    • What a coincidence: the same value as your posts! (nt)

      ]:)
      John Zern
    • You should feel right at home then...nt

      nt
      TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
  • Should they buy Twitter - No...twitter is a huge waste - nt

    nt
    TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
  • RE: Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

    Could they? Sure. Should they? No. I honestly don't know too many people using twitter. Everyone has heard of it, they just don't use it. I don't need to know what everyone is doing that badly, and many agree with me. Seems like the only ones really making use of twitter are the celebrities, and if you want info about them you can find it online in the latest headlines. I can't see much business sense for Microsoft to buy twitter.
    Loverock Davidson
  • No. MS needs to stick to the knitting, building software.

    And no way would Twitter add anything to the company, only distractions.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Speaking of Bartz MJ, did you catch her on CNBC yesterday?

    She single handedly rebuilt the "glass ceiling" in one interview and set the cause of women CEO's back about 25 years. She couldn't answer even very basic questions about yahoo's direction/strategy. Seriously it was as if a 12 year old was answering. I've never heard so many "and ummms" while stalling to think of how to spout some generic nonsense that avoids the question. It was fricken' EMBARASSING. I bet the board and the rest of senior management were furiously red faced, loosening their collars, and having servere aneurysms. They really need to keep a communications handler with her at all times with one of those long old vaudeville hooks to pull her off stage or get her into a night class at the Obama Teleprompter Institute.
    Johnny Vegas
    • O.T.I.

      Man, haven't laughed that hard at a ZDNet post in a while. Kudos...
      jasonp@...
    • Can she see Russia from her office?

      <nt>
      minardi
  • RE: Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

    This is an interesting question, I do think MS could improve the performance and reliability of the service. I would love to see Twitter deployed on the Microsoft web platform.
    Tim Acheson
  • RE: Could (and should) Microsoft buy Twitter?

    Microsoft should most certainly not buy twitter. Microsoft should focus on getting Silverlight mobile working and out the door, so that someone can build the next generation applications (Social, Business, otherwise) that can take advantage of mobile technology and do so on more than just Windows Mobile (Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry, etc...) as quickly as possible. Microsoft's mobile technology plan has been horrible and now you want to make it even more horrible ? Push Microsoft to be a software development company that provides tools across platforms (not just their platforms) and they might actually succeed ! If the continue to think of the Microsoft only platforms, they will fall by the wayside while Google, Apple, RIM, etc... eat their lunch.
    jkohut
  • Not just no, but h*ll no...

    If Microsoft ever wants to be thought of as an innovator they need to cull the dead wood, not add more to it. They simply can't focus as a company given the portfolio they currently manage. In a perfect world it would go something like this... All hardware business units - out. Bing - out. Dynamics - out. Amalga - out. MSN - out. MSNBC - out. Zune - out. Money - out. Streets - out. Songsmith, AutoCollage, Healthvault, Worldwide Telescope - out. Once they reduced their portfolio, they'd have the resources to manage what was left. They've been floundering for far too long now with no clear direction and it shows.
    jasonp@...
    • Way wrong...

      Bing is fundamental to the company. They must compete Google in Search. That is their most important mission right now. More important than Windows 8 or Office 2012, and probably more important than Windows Phone even.

      Zune is important as it is the foundation of their Windows Phone line. Zune is technologicially a great product, and the move to Windows Phone was a great move.

      The rest I can take or leave from your list. Although I bet they don't consume many resources.
      DevStar