Microsoft’s answer to Facebook…

… went live this morning.

Microsoft has enhanced Windows Live, their portal for running Microsoft applications “in the cloud”, to include social networking features similar to Facebook. This is potentially a big deal for them given that they are leveraging the 268 million users of Microsoft Messenger, their popular instant messaging client, to populate the service with a user base. In comparison, Yahoo has 116 million users for Yahoo Messenger and Google has only 6 Million for Google Talk. At this point, Facebook has somewhere north of 130 million users. I expect that Microsoft will use these numbers to claim bragging rights to the world’s largest social network i.e. they are at least twice the size of Facebook.

Unfortunately for us, this doesn’t help the situation very much – confusion and competition dilute the energy and focus that Facebook has experienced so far. Microsoft will gather some press coverage for this new strategy based on their angle that this is helping them realign themselves to the Web 2.0 world. However, it isn’t really a social network in the same context as Facebook. This is mainly from a perception point of view; it has many of the same features but users don’t look at it in the same way. Many users have a big investment in their Facebook profiles and will be reluctant to move them over to Microsoft Live.

One big thing that may bring them over is the fact that Microsoft is also delivering quite a few rich content application through their Live service. Users can use an online version of Microsoft Word, a calendar, online storage and, of course, Messenger. Time will tell if this is enough to pry user profiles free from Facebook.

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