Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Amidst the Microhoo ballyhoo, an idea for improving enterprise tools

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The heat and noise generated by MIcrosoft’s hostile bid for Yahoo could power a city, but among the various reactions and strained metaphors are some important points for the future of the Web. Plus, I think there is a potentially innovative enterprise angle that has not been discussed so far
As Ross Mayfield points out, Yahoo was instrumental to mainstreaming open internet services, but the company has also had its issues when it comes to integrating acquisitions and building on its successes. It is far from perfect and has been losing ground to Google in search, email, advertising and other areas for some time
It seems the deal will linger on for a year or so, whatever Yahoo’s initial response, which will place great pressure on the company to dig itself out of its current poor situation. It may be that the deal becomes a fait accompli. Assuming it goes ahead at some point, what does this mean for Yahoo, Microsoft and and the rest of us
On a purely selfish note, I am disturbed that my fantasy football game, online photos, bookmarks, tags and communications software might all soon be owned by Microsoft, and goodness knows how many of these services will survive unscathed. Indeed, the very thought of other resources such as the Yahoo interface library become the property of STEVE! Ballmer! and his colleagues seems mighty incongruous given their general attitiude of make-it-look-like-Outlook-and-Office when it comes to web application design
Whilst the deal is valued on advertising revenues, but arguably targeted also at achieving a more dominant position in search, Tim O’Reilly has contributed a typically cogent analysis that suggests the clever play would not be to fight Google on its own territory of search, but rather to use Yahoo and Microsoft’s combined dominance of web-based email as a vehicle to compete with Google’s intelligence about user behaviour. Tim argues that the value of the intelligence in email and cloud computing more generally is the real prize here, because it creates better revenue opportunities for advertising, but also provides a basis for a post-advertising future of VRM or PRM
Seasoned Silicon Vally commentator, Henry Blodget, argues that whatever happens will end in disaster for Microsoft, partly because all web-centric business units will remain subservient to the Windows/Office cash cow, and partly because MS is overstretched and uncompetititve on too many of its chosen battlegrounds
Jack Schofield of the Guardian offers up three scenarios for a potential absorption of Yahoo

  1. Eat Yahoo alive and remove a competititor
  2. Go for best of breed in each area of overlap
  3. Make Yahoo the new MS consumer division

Others seem to be rooting for option three as well, perhaps hoping that Ray Ozzie and the Web-facing Microsofties will find common cause with the Yahoo side of the business in finally bringing Microsoft into the Web 2.0 era, once and for all
This option has obvious merits, but I think this would miss a potentially huge trick in the enterprise markets. It is a misconception to think that the enterprise markets are defined by Outlook, Exchange, Sharepoint and the Windows server business, whereas the consumer market is all about cloud computing and online services. The fact is, whilst Microsoft has overseen a pitiful stagnation of enterprise computing over the past ten years by milking its cash cows and sowing FUD among lazy IT departments, it has been the consumer internet services that have created the drivers for what some people call Enterprise 2.0, or less proscially, the new wave of enterprise social computing. By splitting Microhoo into the boring old stuff and the exciting new consumer stuff, I think both sides of that deal would suffer
Here’s why
The future of enterprise social computing looks like it will involve a combination of internal systems and tools augmented and extended by cloud computing and services. The interaction and adoption models for this will look less like Outlook and more like Flickr or Delicious. Google has bet big on cloud computing, which may eventually form the basis of an appliance business as well for inside the firewall; but Microsoft holds the ring right now with their dominance of internal email (Exchange), the desktop (Windows and Office) and the rise of Sharepoint
Yahoo currently have some amazing assets that could be deployed to transform Microsoft’s stale, C20th enterprise offering. First, there is Zimbra – a really good communication platform with over 11m mailboxes, according to the company. It provides an excellent Exchange alternative to act as a centre of gravity for a number of enterprise collaboration and interaction modes. Then there is Delicious, Upcoming and some of the other recently acquired services, plus others being developed in-house. Each of these has the potential to make enterprise web apps a lot more useful and interesting than they are right now. Finally, there is the Yahoo interface and design patterns libraries, and the company’s knowledge of how to make useful and compelling Web-native applications that users will enjoy. The problem is, Yahoo have had neither the will nor the culture to turn these assets into valuable enterprise offerings
Rather than segment the new business into clearly delineated enterprise and consumer divisions, I think there is real scope for throwing the pieces up in the air and recombining them in a more imaginitive way. Enterprise needs the innovation and user experience of consumer-facing web apps, and the consumer side could benefit from the experience of enterprise apps in suporting the basic needs of less motivated and web-aware users
Only time will tell whether such a coming together of different groups, cultures and tools is possible.

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