Saturday, September 09, 2006

Why, Microsoft, Why?

Microsoft has unveiled a YouTube competitor, Michael Arrington reported today on Techcrunch. SoapBox, as it is rumored to be called, will basically be a YouTube clone, offering a similar set of video sharing services.

Arrington rightly wonders why they are launching the service under the MSN brand, rather than the Live brand. The Live set of products are it - the next generation applications that will enable Microsoft to stay atop the market over the next few years. It's really, really cool stuff (a post on it to come shortly). But then why launch SoapBox as an MSN product? MSN has labored for years to be the type of all-in-one portal that Yahoo is, without much success. Launching on Live would give SoapBox traction much faster, crucial for a service that derives its utility from its user base.

However, in my mind, the more obvious is question is "Why?" Why launch a video sharing service in the first place? It just doesn't make sense - YouTube already owns the market by a wide margin. Just as importantly, the space is crowded - really crowded. How many video sharing sites have sprang up since YouTube gained popularity? Google and AOL have already joined the rush, not to mention countless start ups. Does Microsoft really think its SoapBox can pull a number on YouTube like its Explorer did on Netscape?

It's not going to happen, and this will probably be yet another failed experiment on Microsoft's part. But the move really makes you wonder - what are they thinking? Has the the preeminent tech company of our generation really fallen so far? Do they really believe their minuscule chance of success is even worth the effort? And even if they do succeed, what will they have gained? The reward is almost non existent, regardless of the risk.

The "chicken with its head cut off" syndrome has become far too common place at today's tech titans. I don't even think this post is all that insightful - I think I'm just stating the obvious, that SoapBox is a horrible idea. But that's the point - it's so obvious, but Microsoft is still doing it. The market leaders keep churning out these pointless projects and clones rather than sticking to the ingenuity that made them leaders in the first place.

But I guess it's not so bad - at least it leaves room for you and me to make our own little dent in the world...


  1. As Steve Jobs wryly said at WWDC 2006, "Microsoft spends $5 billion a year on R&D and it seems all they can do is copy Google and Apple." Better expand that list.

  2. in M$ defense, there is slight merit to launching these services... the best I can think of is better integration with their own products - i've found abroad that Yahoo is the reigning search engine in asia, and MSN the reigning chat program (and its associated MSN blogs have a pretty good take as well).

    Its a sad necessity that google has an integrated 'post to myspace' button on googlevideo, an acknowledgement that they lost the war against youtube, basically.

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