Microsoft offers to buy Yahoo

The big news this morning is that Microsoft has offered $44.6B to buy Yahoo, the figure representing a 62% premium on the share price at yesterday’s market close. It’s very unclear at this point what will come of this, but as a user I find it hard to see how such a tie-up could be beneficial to me. From my perspective, although MS has done some interesting things on the net, none of their initiatives have been focused on delivering the best quality of user experience or even innovation – their plays have seemed to by cynically based on scaling up so-so experiences and hoping that the brute force of that scale can make them important. What we learn from Google, however, is that though scale is important, it is deeply related to quality and innovation in a way that consumer software never was.

Update: Techcrunch has looked at some of the numbers.

The title of this story in my feeds

was Microsoft Agrees to Alter Vista Desktop Search. I wonder if the headline was just a coincidence, or if using a slightly modified “AltaVista” was a sly joke? (For newer Net folk, back in the day, AltaVista was THE search engine.)

I’m glad that Scoble has left

Microsoft because now he can concentrate more on important things rather than Microsoft all the time. His most recent piece is called The screwing of the Long Tail, and while I don’t think that the long tail is actually being screwed, he does make some excellent observations about blogs (&c.) and advertising. What I mean when I say that the long tail is not being screwed, I mean that they (we) would have to have expected something to be considered to be screwed – and the whole point of the long tail is that people along that part of the curve are doing it because they like doing it. I’m not sure that it can continue to be a long tail if it’s done consciously for profit.

MSN Search Update

I re-checked the search I put the Beta MSN through yesterday and interestingly – expectedly – it included more returns than before – though the total was still just 10% of Google’s number and no more relevent. But I think it’s important to guage how MSN and a couple of the others change over time. I think people have an instinctive feel for Google by now, but a new entrant like MSN Search should be given the opportunity to improve over time, to get up to speed, so to speak. Anyhow – over the weekend I’m going to write up 3 or 4 queries and develop a schedule to see how each responds and compare the results. I’ll include Google, MSN Search Beta, and Yahoo! Search. Any suggestions anyone can offer will be more than welcome.

It looks like MSN Search

is on now, so a comparison is possible. I thought I’d compare using a very relevant search using the terms “alberto gonzales” at the site. The results from MSN were shocking in their sparseness – it only returned 6 hits. The results from Google turned up 112 hits. Just in case, I used the graphical tuners to make sure MSN wasn’t just presenting me with a subset based on my initial (default) settings, but that didn’t change anything. From where I sit, turning up but 5% of the results is quite a failure for the Microsoft search.

Public Beta:

the new MSN Search. Doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, but this is supposed to be a big improvement. I’m not holding my breath though.

Robert Scoble has posted

a long, well-written piece about content creation and its place in the current software/internet landscape. His post is in the form of advice for someone who wants to have a talk with Bill Gates, however, which brings up troubling problems.

Isn’t the Microsoft commitment to hard DRM (evidence of which is Ballmer calling iPod users thieves, but that’s not the only evidence) fundamentally incompatible with the idea that Microsoft should be privileging all of these next-gen content creation formats/methods/tools? Content creation doesn’t happen in a walled-off world where “commercial” stuff is completely split from non-commercial stuff. Read Larry Lessig on the subject – he’s had more insight into this than most. For him (in my interpretation), copyright and hard DRM aren’t problems because he’s a communist; rather it’s the reverse. Lessig proposes limits to copyright because he understands how creativity happens, and that imperiling creativity in the name of commercial absolutism is anathema to a society that wishes to derive value (both cultural and economic) from creative pursuits.

Content creation has exploded on the web because of linking, which neatly sidesteps many of the problems with this concept. Since you can link to something on the WWW, you don’t have to worry about copyright issues in order to riff off an idea, to comment about an article, to share your point of view, or to do any of a thousand other wonderful things. But you can’t link, per se, in a recording. You have to sample. You don’t link, as such, in a video – you put up a snippet in a different context.

Maybe it’s the difference between PageMaker/Quark/Indesign that enabled the Zine world and Blogger/Movable Type/etc. in the blogging world. Both kinds of software have enabled loads of “amateur” creativity, in the case of page layout software going back years and years. But there are many more bloggers than zine makers, because since you can’t “link” in print, the barrier has always been much higher to becoming a content creator in that environment, even though the software did make it more accessible than it was previously. Blogging, and writing on the web in general, can funnel all of that creativity and enable a whole lot more as well, since linking allows a different kind of creativity that doesn’t always require as awesome a commitment to creating all content in pretty much of a vacuum. The web lives off the link: the recombination, the re-contextualization, and the re-conceptualization provided by linking are its lifeblood. The constant flow of creativity on the web, which is theoretically and practically unlimited, comes because the link itself brings with it an energy that engages many more people than would be engaged in a non-linking medium.

If other types of content were more freely “linkable” in their own context – whether through sampling or other techniques – then perhaps they could enjoy the same explosion of creativity that harnessed the growth of the WWW. Unfortunately, the “money players” are doing everything they can to stop that from ever happening. And Microsoft is clearly in league with them.

Hard DRM and the kind of explosion in creativity and “content creation” that Scoble is applauding are fundamentally incompatible. All of the wonderful alternative means of expression are possible, but limited as long as you can’t do in those environments what you can do – easily – on the web. I think that for Microsoft to have any place whatsoever in that world of creativity and – beyond providing the basic software like Windows and such – it would have to turn 180° from its current position that non-DRM = theft. And until it does, there’s no point even considering Microsoft as a player among the companies and individuals that are helping all of this amazing creativity grow and flourish.

From the Guardian last week:

The second browser war, by Ben Hammersley.

“…why did Microsoft stop developing Internet Explorer? Why would a company so vocal about innovation cease work on perhaps the most used application in the world, and for nearly three years? The answer is not definitive, but the prevailing thinking points to the third aspect of the browser war: it is the beginning of an even larger, if deeply curious, battle for the domination of the entire computer industry.”

I remain suspicious about the possibility of web apps to become the thin client or network computer heralded in years past, but it’s clear there’s something going on, and MS really does look like it’s being forced to hedge its bets a bit more than it has done in the past couple of years.

A quick pointer

to an article that has been making the rounds in a big way in the last ten days or so: How Microsoft Lost the API War by Joel Spolsky. There have been many reaction pieces, but this piece on Daring Fireball by John Gruber adds the most interesting perspective. “…whatfs ironic is that [Microsoft is] losing this war despite the fact that they won the browser war.”

If you liked the plaintext

version, you’re going to love it in hypertext: Cory Doctorow’s Microsoft Research DRM talk. Courtesy of Anil Dash, and Haughey did yet another version based on Dash’s, but even easier to read.

If you’ve noticed any critiques of this talk on the net, please let me know!