The Microsoft-Yahoo Deal and Photos

    February 1, 2008

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.

Media Center Pictures

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.