The idea of Microsoft acquiring Twitter came up again in an interview this week with CEO Steve Ballmer at the Search Marketing Expo West in Santa Clara, Calif.
There’s been speculation about this subject from bloggers and analysts for awhile now, but this week industry watchers are especially aflutter (or should i say atwitter) because Ballmer’s answer wasn’t an outright “No.” It was more of a long-winded “probably not.”
Here are some of Ballmer’s comments about Twitter from the SMX interview:
“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.”
What is clear from this excerpt is that it’s not clear to Ballmer why Microsoft should buy the world’s most popular microblogging site. He says “not clear” three times, and “far less clear” once. Are we clear??
I’m with him. It’s unclear what Microsoft would gain from acquiring Twitter other than an annoying nickname: MicroTweet (And you thought MicroHoo was bad).
Here are three reasons why this deal ain’t gonna happen.
Twitter’s Business Value = Unclear
What exactly would Twitter add to Microsoft’s fleet of products? And how could Microsoft profit from it? “Not much” and “who knows” are the respective answers.
You could say that if Microsoft owned Twitter it could take those mountains of tweets and add them to Bing for real-time search, which would mean more search results, hence more ad dollars. The thing is Bing ALREADY DOES THIS. Microsoft and Twitter inked a deal last October that gave Bing search access to Twitter’s full public data feed for real-time updates.
Microsoft would have to roll up its sleeves and figure out more ways to monetize Twitter. But don’t you acquire a company because it is profitable or can be made profitable fairly easily? Also, if Microsoft was going to buy Twitter why did it add social networking features to Windows Live and SharePoint 2010, including microblogging?
Twitter’s Association with Microsoft Would Turn Tweeters Off
Twitter built its empire of 140-character scribbling soldiers through word of mouth. Little by little, tweeting became a relatively cool thing to do, and there’s a simplicity and independent spirit at the site’s core.
To hand all that over to the patently uncool Microsoft would not sit well with the loyal tweeters that Twitter has assembled over the past few years.
It’s unknown what would happen to Twitter under Microsoft’s thumb. Redmond could very well leave it untouched much in the way that Google has left YouTube untouched. But Microsoft is more likely to roll Twitter into SharePoint or Windows Live or both. If that happens you can say bye-bye to the independent spirit and street cred that made Twitter a household name.
Ballmer himself admits as much: “Would they [Twitter] have that same credibility with the user community if they were captive? Not clear.”
Twitter May Still Be Just a Fad
Despite its currently popularity, Twitter may not be around for long. Look, it does one thing very well: 140-character microblogging. A catchy name and massive word of mouth (not too mention tweets from celebrities) have kept Twitter running. But how long can it do one thing well and succeed? Facebook provides basically the same service as Twitter, plus a whole lot more.
It’s doubtful Microsoft will buy a company with technology that can still be described as “trendy.” It seems doubly unlikely when Microsoft has already integrated similar technologies on its own via the social media tools in SharePoint and Windows Live.
With Twitter, Microsoft should do what it did with yahoo: partner. What do you think? Should Microsoft buy Twitter?
Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.