What a Microsoft Acquisition of Yahoo Would Mean For Photos

Media Center Pictures

Well two days ago, in light of the woes coming from Yahoo’s earnings conference call, I suggested that maybe now was just the time to pack it up and sell the ship to Microsoft, and it seems like somebody decided to take my advice. Only joking of course.

This morning it looks like Microsoft has offered a $44.6 billion buyout offer for Yahoo! — which makes all the sense in the world for so many reasons. I’m not going to get into all of those reasons, just read Steve Ballmer’s letter for all that. Instead what I’m going to write about today is just what a Yahoo acquisition would mean for one particular area, photography.

1. Flickr comes out a clear winner. Already king of photography at Yahoo after swallowing Yahoo Photos, there is no question that Flickr would become the photosharing site of choice for Microsoft. It would be one of the crown jewels of an acquisition in fact.

More than just having more marketing muscle to push Flickr from an advertising perspective, Microsoft owns the desktop. By creating easy and convenient ways to publish your photos to Flickr directly from the Vista OS, Microsoft would push Flickr from an earlier adopter photogeek sort of site into the mainstream.

Vista already has introduced for the first time photo tagging to the masses, this would tailor well with Flickr whose photo site and especially photo search relies greatly on tagging.

2. Because of Flickr, Yahoo already has better image search than Google. People just don’t know it because, well, no one ever tries image search at Yahoo. I think with deeper pockets at Microsoft you’d see more of an emphasis placed on image search and I think you’d find interesting new ways that searching for images from the desktop would point you to Flickr. For instance, I could see Microsoft developing an option when searching for photos on your hard drive that would also point you to Flickr images. So if I was looking for a photo of a tree in my photos and couldn’t find one I wanted, the OS might suggest I search for one on Flickr as well.

3. Flickr would be better integrated in Microsoft’s Media Center platform. Media Center is slowly but surely positioning itself to be the media delivery system of the home of the future. With XBox 360 extender units, Media Center allows you to stream all of your media (TV, photos, music, videos, etc.) throughout your home.

Years ago Bill Gates designed his home to be the prototypical home of the future. A big part of this home of the future were plasma displays that showcased great art throughout his home. Media Center is *perfect* for this. I’ve been using Media Center to showcase my own art and that of others on a plasma in my living room for years now.

The thing about Media Center though is that it shines best when it has *spectacular* content running across it. By integrating with Flickr, Media Center would now be able to use Flickr’s interestingness algorithm to serve up photos directly to Media Center PCs. Want to gather the family around the set to watch the greatest photos of the Grand Canyon because you are going on a trip there next month? A Media Center / Flickr combo would be perfect for this.

4. Microsoft could represent the path for Flickr to finally offer their top pros access to the stock photography market. Kinda sorta. One of the things that Microsoft would potentially bring to the table for photos would be Corbis, the world’s second largest stock photo agency behind Getty Images. Although Corbis is not a Microsoft property it is owned by Bill Gates 100%. Recently Corbis tried to start a sort of hybrid stock photo thing for the amateur with their introduction of “Snap Village.” With Flickr under his control, Microsoft could use Flickr as an onramp to Snap Village allowing better traction to move the top amateur photos being taken today into the “for sale” category.

If this happened this would represent a serious threat to Getty’s current dominance in the stock photography business.

5. Microsoft recently bought Vizrea, former Microsoft exec Mike Toutonghi’s photo sharing site. There was also recent talk based on a job posting that Microsoft was looking to hire an exec to run a team to create a photo/video sharing site to compete with Flickr. I’d guess that Mike and his team would go to work for the Flickr team or elsewhere within Microsoft if they didn’t want to work with photos anymore.

6. Microsoft could use the audience at Flickr, perhaps the largest audience of photo hobbyists in the world, to help promote it’s new JPEGXR or HD Photo format. By promoting this new format to the Flickr crowd, this would help spread the word about it’s potential and encourage greater adoption.

7. Microsoft could use Flickr’s library of images, perhaps the largest library or organized and categorized imagery in the world, to advance their research with their HD View research. HD View is emerging technology being worked on at Microsoft that allows impressive panoramas to be created by stitching photos together. By combining mapping and geotagging, Microsoft could look to create new ways for collaboration to take place by merging Flickr photos together. This technology is still a bit of a ways off, but controlling the largest library of organized, tagged, and especially geotagged imagery on the internet, Microsoft could potentially do some pretty interesting things with these photos.

Interestingly enough, Stanford Professor Marc Levoy showed Robert Scoble and I technology similar to this first hand when we visited him down at Stanford last fall.

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25 Comments

  1. the marquise de sade says:

    You must be psychic Thomas…

    But seriously:

    1) Are you going to work for Microsoft or something? What does this mean to the future of your Zooomr baby?

    2) I think the acquisition of Flickr would eventually be its demise, at least in the sense of it being (pretty much) an agnostic environment. Microsoft loves to kill any competition or possibility of integration in their quest for world domination by enforcing closed standards in its technology. Microsoft is already too big with too much under its control. I believe without any real competition in that space the inertia created by a Microsoft acquisition would pretty much kill the Flickr draw for people like myself. Any time you bind a service to a particular operating system model (even in a tangential way) it seems to be a recipe for lameness.

    You think Flickr censorship is bad now, just wait until Microsoft gets a hold of it. Maybe this could be just what Zooomr needs. Remember Microsoft LOVES the Chinese government and doesn’t exactly hold the principles of freedom of speech and human rights in high regard. Just GOOGLE “Microsoft censorship” and you’ll see what I mean.

    Don’t let the fun toys they build blind you to the bigger strategic dangers they present to a free thriving internet. As I type this on Windows Vista I only wish there were more competition in the OS space, with more interoperability, without having to revert to Apple or Linux.

  2. Cassandra says:

    Boy oh Boy did you call this one!

  3. iluvpepero says:

    thomas, so you were the one loading up on the yhoo feb call options! ;-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    This might also be part of the reason why Apple TV Take 2 is delayed by 2 weeks. Not sure if Apple wants to be writing a check to MS each month…

  5. Ryan G says:

    Though I wouldn’t consider myself ‘anti-microsoft,’ ever since I started using a mac last year, I realized I would probably never use a microsoft product again, except browser testing in IE via parallels.To me, apple just does it better… so when I heard this news this morning, I immediately got worried about flickr as its really the only yahoo product I use.

    One of the greatest things yahoo did for flickr when they took over was keep their hands off… I wonder now, will Microsoft do the same? I hope so, and I’ll start here by asking Microsoft, if your deal goes through PLEASE DON’T RUIN FLICKR!!! After trying out the mess that is hotmail, Live, and MSN, I’m scared for the future flickr.

    Good for microsoft..maybe. Good for users? I guess only time will tell…

  6. Anonymous says:

    While all the people unhappy with the merge can migrate to Zooomr, right? :D

  7. Cory Miller says:

    My Good Lord…

    WTF?! You’re the only Photographer on the planet who’s a happy Windows User!!!!

  8. Fati.m.a says:

    HI, I agree with marquis de Sade, Flickr is free and that is one of the major reasons that peple are Flickrin away! Miscrosoft does impose standardisation restrictions and that just kills the fun of freedom!
    I fear for Flickr, but one never knows what just might turn up!

  9. @ marquise de sade: Were you posting with irony when you said to google a term to find out about MSFT censorship? Erm, Google – happy to play with the Chinese gov. entirely on Gov. terms. Or did I get that wrong?

  10. the marquise de sade says:

    “@ marquise de sade: Were you posting with irony when you said to google a term to find out about MSFT censorship? Erm, Google – happy to play with the Chinese gov. entirely on Gov. terms. Or did I get that wrong?”

    HAHAHAH yes! I’m glad someone caught that I mean to add some sort of “irony” tag but didn’t before I posted.

    The fact is ALL corporations are required to do what is best for the bottom line and eschew any concerns for morality, human rights etc. All internet companies are going to censor when it is in their financial best interests. However, I believe Microsoft is way worse than any of the others for one reason: they’re not only a huge internet presence they also have a stranglehold on the PC OS market. Think about the sheer potential of the Chinese consumer market and you can understand the greed that drives these policies.

    In addition, Microsoft is known for censoring messages (to some degree) sent on its MSN Messenger service, in addition to censoring search results in its search engine for competing technologies and products. Google doesn’t do this because it doesn’t need to – at least they’re honest enough to have people bribe them to get the best search placement (a bit mellodramatic, i know). Personally, I think Microsoft will lead the way in censorship in the future not only for China but eventually the US.

    Take a look at what your tax dollars are going to support, a bill that could be interpreted as the death of free speech in the US:

    http://www.sixhoursaweek.com/2008/01/homegrown-terrorism-bill-news.html#more

  11. Krista Neher says:

    This is the first blog post that I have come across from a Photographer that is actually positive about the acquisition.

    While there is tremendous potential I think that history would show that Microsoft’s acquisitions have not had the best results (Hotmail.com, driveoff.com to name a few).

    Did anyone else celebrate Vista’s 1 year anniversary on the 30th?

  12. TranceMist says:

    When I heard that MSFT may be buying YHOO my first thought was that this may be the end of my time on Flickr.

  13. Quikboy says:

    @marquise de sade:

    Why would Microsoft buy Y!’s properties, and just destroy some of the things that made Y! at least a little successful? You must be an idiot to think MS will just buy a site for so much money, and kill it. There’s a ton of good opportunity with Flickr, and practically any company knows better than to mess with it bad, and hurt the user base.

    Yahoo! is the one that loves censorship. They’re the ones that got Chinese journalists in jail. Though both Google and Microsoft also HAVE to censor their stuff in China, or not be in it at all.

    And Flickr is a website. If you don’t like what they have to offer, move on.

    As for everybody else, assuming the worst from Microsoft is dumb. Like Thomas, I see some good things that could come with the merge. Where the best of Y! + the best of WinLive/MSN = a more cohesive web services/content site.

    Y!’s has great properties, large user base (also in Asia), among some great site designers and awesome partnerships (AT&T;, etc.). Combine that with WinLive’s pretty more robust services they’ve been offering, Microsoft’s latest technology, integration with some of Microsoft’s cooler products, and you’ve got one heck of a site.

    Can’t wait to see what the merger will bring together. Hopefully pro accounts on Flickr get cheaper, just to win users over.

  14. Gary says:

    Gary…

    Thanks but some things here seems strange to me. Have a good Thursday anyway….

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