Thursday, 6 August 2009

Facebook as portal to Microsoft Cloud?

A recurring theme from TechMarketView has been the possibility that Microsoft could buy Facebook and use it as a portal into their cloud-based computing services. This doesn't make sense to me for a number of reasons.

What might MS' Cloud offerings be?
  • Office-as-a-service - Word, Excel etc - apparently planned for Office 14 anyway.
  • Business Stuff - CRM, ERP, etc.
  • Personal Financial Management, pretty much "Money-as-a-service"
  • Online collaboration spaces - "SharePoint as a service"
I can't think of much else, although maybe others can. I don't see MS as coming up with anything especially innovative or radical - it's pretty much business as usual, just delivered through a browser rather than local applications.

So, what's the problem with "Facebook as portal to Cloud"? The first problem I have with this concept is user expectations & behaviours. What do you go to Facebook for? To stay in touch with friends, organise social events, form groups for issues you care about, share pictures. Where does any of this form a natural lead into using MS offerings? About the only service I can see being relevant is online collaboration, and I don't see MS adding much over what Facebook already enables with groups, events and so on.

I guess what I'm really saying is that Facebook/MS Cloud integration seems, to me, to be a big context shift. The only way I can see it working is for the two to remain fairly separate, and simply be driven by association - i.e. I'm on Facebook anyway - now I need to edit a document - ah, MS Cloud is right here, I'll use that.

But Microsoft could do that anyway, right now, by advertising their cloud services on Facebook. So what reason would they have to buy the whole thing?

This is all rather assuming that MS will find a way to make money from increased traffic on their Cloud services - this is a challenge in itself. Maybe they'll do it through a "Free + Premium" model such as Flickr, but I remain to be convinced... Anyway, let's stick with this assumption for now.

Therefore MS would be looking to Facebook to drive traffic to their Cloud services. But not so fast! They can't mess about too much with Facebook's usability, lest they drive away users. They can't turn it into an obvious MS portal, for fear of losing its cool, its cachet - again, driving away users. So again, the only real integration I can imagine is simply a link from Facebook through to MS Cloud. As I've said above, they could already do this via advertising.

The last point to address is about competitiveness in the Cloud services space. Facebook is all about people connecting with other people, talking and exchanging opinions. If MS Cloud services were in ANY way flawed, or lacking functionality, or weak in comparison with offerings from Google etc., then sure as the sun rising Facebook users would be pointing these flaws out, and suggesting their friends try alternatives instead. If we're talking freely-available, internet-delivered services, then I can't conceive of any way MS could lock-in users to their services through Facebook without huge irritation and negative PR - again, driving users away from Facebook and losing any possible benefits.

So anyway, the whole thing doesn't really add up to me. Maybe there are some nuances to this I'm missing though! I do think it's an interesting area to explore - monetisation of social networks will clearly be a driving purpose for big companies in the near future. Would love to hear any opinions or further thoughts...

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