Microsoft executives have talked for months about their company's "all in" cloud strategy, which will gradually shift its product focus from the desktop to the Web. Social networking is an integral component of that strategy-and some announcements this week suggest that Microsoft sees Facebook, with its installed base of 500 million users, as a key partner in the effort.
Microsoft and Facebook announced a deeper partnership Oct. 13, centered on a set of new social-search features accessible via Bing and Facebook's Web results. One of the features, Liked Results, displays Websites and links "liked" by a Facebook user's friends. The other, Facebook Profile Search, leverages a user's Facebook connections to deliver more relevant results.
Thanks to a $240 million investment, Microsoft owns a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. That makes such collaborations inevitable-especially if they allow Microsoft and Facebook to more aggressively combat their mutual enemy, Google.
"We think it's time for a real, robust, persistent social signal," Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Services Division, wrote in an Oct. 13 posting on the Bing Community blog. "Facebook has led a transformation of the Internet already. It has reached and passed 500 million members, and the amount of content created inside Facebook each day is staggering."
Nadella added: "This new signal will allow us to do a better and more comprehensive job predicting what resources and content are most relevant to you because, in addition to all the other signals we use, other people you trust have found them interesting."
However, Microsoft's Facebook integration extends beyond Bing. On Oct. 14, the company announced updates to its Docs.com online applications platform, which allows Facebook users to create and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. New features include .PDF support, full-text search, user-generated templates, and drag-and-drop Silverlight document uploading.
Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie, in an Oct. 14 note on his personal blog, described using the new features to upload documents from a folder discovered while cleaning out his home office. "Inside a sealed packet I found a wonderful artifact from decades ago-a folder of collaterals from the Windows 1.0 launch event," he wrote. "I've scanned and posted this artifact at docs.com, which as of today has introduced, among other features, -browser-based PDF reading' support."
Docs.com is a product of FUSE Labs, a Microsoft division created by Ozzie in Oct. 2009 to focus on "software and services that are centered on social connectivity, real-time experiences and rich media," according to a Microsoft release at the time.
More to the point, FUSE Labs would theoretically allow Microsoft to quickly capitalize on social computing opportunities developed by Microsoft Research and other divisions: "The lab will prioritize efforts where its capabilities can be applied to areas where the company's extant missions, structures, tempo or risk might otherwise cause us to miss a material threat or opportunity."
Such a threat exists in Google Docs and similar cloud-based productivity platforms. To counter that, Microsoft rolled out stripped-down, browser-accessible versions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint for Windows Live subscribers. But collaborating with Facebook gives Microsoft access to a massive brand and a built-in audience-fuel to the fire of its increasingly intense cloud efforts.
"We're hard-wired so that information about people is the most interesting information we track in the world," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the audience during the Oct. 13 presentation to introduce the Bing social-networking apps.
But will those deeper links to Facebook, even across multiple Microsoft platforms, allow Redmond to more effectively battle Google? More to the point: Will Facebook's users-many of them already wary about how their information spreads online-gravitate towards using a social-networking-enhanced Docs.com and Bing in greater numbers? That remains to be seen.