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Microsoft has largely been absent during the rise of self-publishing and social media. But that doesn't mean that it hasn't tried to compete. In 2004, it launched its own self-publishing/social networking platform, MSN Spaces. Today, that platform is known as Windows Live Spaces. Or, more appropriately, is not known as Windows Live Spaces.
That, of course, is because Windows Live Spaces is hardly a prominent platform in a world dominated by more successful publishing and social networking platforms.
So it's no surprise then that Microsoft is essentially throwing in the towel on Windows Live Spaces, at least partially. Yesterday, Microsoft announced that it has teamed up with WordPress.com to allowWindows Live Spaces bloggers to move their blogs to WordPress.com.
Microsoft's Dharmesh Mehta explained Microsoft's move on the Inside Windows Live blog, which as you may have suspected, doesn't run on Windows Live Spaces either:
As we looked at customers’ blogging needs and what different companies were providing, we were particularly interested in what WordPress.com is doing. They have a host of impressive capabilities – from a scalable platform and leading spam protection, to great personalization and customization. WordPress powers over 8.5% of the web, is used on over 26 million sites, and WordPress.com is seen by over 250 million people every month. Not only that, Automattic is a company filled with great people focused on improving blogging experiences. So rather than having Windows Live invest in a competing blogging service, we decided the best thing we could do for our customers was to give them a great blogging solution through WordPress.com.
Translation: WordPress.com is so far ahead of anything we offer or are willing to invest in building that we've decided to partner with WordPress so that our users can obtain a decent service.
Which raises an interesting question: why is Microsoft keeping Windows Live Spaces at all? It certainly isn't doing anything for the reputation or profitability of Microsoft's online division, and it's hard to imagine that it ever will. While it's nice that Microsoft has acknowledged that WordPress.com is superior and is giving its users the ability to migrate, it's worth noting that few consumer internet companies 'win' by outsourcing different pieces of a service to different platform providers.
But the hand-off of Microsoft's blogging functionality to WordPress.com isn't just about Microsoft. It's about the evolution of the business of blogging. Blogging is popular, and it isn't going away, but provider opportunities are arguably becoming scarcer.
Case in point: Google's Blogger. While it's easy to criticize Microsoft and Windows Live Spaces, Blogger is just as meaningless for Google, if not more so. Blogger, of course, was an important player in blogging as the market developed, which is why Google acquired it. But Blogger has largely been left behind. And for good reason: thanks to open source platforms such as WordPress and Movable Type, providing a third party-hosted blogging platform is tough unless it's basically your entire business. That's the case with Automattic and WordPress.com; it's not the case with companies like Microsoft and Google.
The big question now: when will Google throw in the towel on Blogger and pick up the phone to call Automattic?