Over the course of the many weeks of on-again, off-again MicroHoo madness, I did a fair bit of pontificating and speculating of my own about the would-be deal. After all, it was THE Bay Area topic of conversation (for one brief moment we all put our Facebook speculation on hold -- I am so pleased that we can get back to speculating about Facebook now and, better yet, speculating about MicroBook, or is it FaceSoft?).
Many of the MicroHoo conversations I had centered around the combined assets of Microsoft and Yahoo. What could the two companies, in combination, bring to bear upon the Internet landscape? And while the press largely liked to discuss the impact a Microsoft/Yahoo merger would have on the search market, to my mind that was not the biggest advantage of the combination. From where I sit, the greatest combined asset of Microsoft and Yahoo would be their vast social graph data. Farmed properly, MicroHoo could have enabled a stunningly powerful social network using nothing more than the fumes of their existing services.
To see the power of Microsoft's and Yahoo's social data, one need look no further than the first visit to virtually every social service. The first thing you are asked to do in the registration process is to give your login data for Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc. Why? Because each new social experience on the Web needs to recreate your social graph and the best way to jump start that process is to use the social graph data you already have stored in your existing communications services.
What if MicroHoo were to simply farm the social data contained in all of its current social services? Step one, implement a unified login across all MicroHoo services. I must say that this is one thing that Yahoo has gotten right from the very beginning (and Google has been a fast follower). Since its inception, Yahoo has viewed the customer experience as a unified one across all of its properties. And with each of its acquisitions, job number one has been to unify the login experience. Thus, Yahoo knows that "davidhornik" on Yahoo Mail is the same as "davidhornik" on Flickr is the same as "davidhornik" on MyYahoo. What if MicroHoo also knew that it was the same as "davidhornik" on Microsoft Messenger and as "davidhornik" on Hotmail? In fact, MicroHoo could know that I am the same "davidhornik" on:
Every one of these services contains data from which MicroHoo could have created a social graph an order of magnitude larger than MySpace or Facebook. Add on top of that social data compelling personalized experiences drawn from the likes of MyYahoo, Yahoo Finance, Zune.net, etc. and you've got the makings of a pretty powerful social experience.
So why haven't Yahoo and Microsoft done this on their own, let alone in combination? That's a great question. If I were in charge, it is where I would start. As all experiences on the Web increasingly are informed by social relationships, the long term winners will be the players who can bring the most social data to bear on their services. What's more, as can be seen in the recent announcements by MySpace, Facebook and Google, the ability to own that social graph and make it available for use by third-party services will prove invaluable. While Google has relatively little to offer in terms of existing social data, both Yahoo and Microsoft sit on treasure troves of data (as does AOL for that matter) that would allow them to legitimately compete with MySpace and Facebook as the Social Graph of Record for the rest of the Web.
Not that it would be easy for Microsoft or Yahoo to create a social network from whole cloth. I know it wouldn't. (Just look at Yahoo 360.) But the prize is well worth the effort. Consider the millions of people who have yet to join any social network. While Yahoo and Microsoft may not be the likely starting point for Millennials, it strikes me as a very natural place for the rest of the Web to discover and embrace social networking. Similarly, Microsoft and/or Yahoo seem the natural repositories of the social graph of record for the rest of the Web. If MicroHoo is ever reborn, the big opportunity for the combined companies is to create the social network for everyone else (and the social graph for everything else). In the mean time, Jerry and Steve, if you are listening, you probably should get working on it independently. My guess is that your future in the Web depends upon it.