Xbox Live – Microsoft’s Facebook?

I wrote this as a Fbook message to Robert Scoble around the same time as Microsoft invested in Fbook.  He never replied — Robert, you were quick to respond to my friend request.  What happened?  I feel shunned but I guess with 5,000 friends, you probably receive an overload of messages.  No hard feelings.  Your non-response helped push me towards creating my own blog.

The Fbook message is posted below:

Since it became known that MS was thinking about spending millions to purchase a portion of Facebook, I have ruminated on a subject — why doesn’t MS spend those millions to build out their own nascent social site? The answer of course is simple — starting from scratch, it is likely an expensive, futile effort. But what if MS already had a social site with a loyal user base?

Right now, everyone thinks that Facebook/Myspace is the next generation of the web and everyone from MS to Google is trying to find a way in. If you can’t build it, try to buy it. [UPDATE: With a purchase of Facebook failing, Google is trying to build it, in a way, with Open Social].

MS obviously does not think they can build it so they are trying to buy it. That investment may be smart but they already hold the key to a nascent social site. The site is wholly owned by MS and has the seeds of an active, and, most important to gain any sort of traction, unique user base with a hard-to-copy twist. If these seeds are allowed to germinate, then MS might have a viable social site on their hands. The site — Xbox Live.

I have not seen you post much (if anything?) about Xbox Live so I assume you either do not have an Xbox or don’t play much. I am sure you know the general details but this is what MS seems to miss — they have a hugely loyal user base that while likely captured by Facebook/Myspace probably spends more time on Xbox Live than any other social service. The service is better than any offering from Nintendo or Sony but pales in comparison to Facebook/Myspace. If MS reframes the idea of what Xbox Live can be, then the universe of competitors expands and new opportunities arise.

Xbox Live has nascent social features. You can add a friend, checkout a friend’s profile, send them a message, live “free” voice chat, voice messages, game pictures, etc. You can do this through your Xbox (i.e. while sitting on your couch) or through your computer (although note, few of my friends know you can play with your Live profile through the computer). However, the current tools are crude and are at best, serviceable. There is room for huge improvement and tool expansion. Xbox Live is tied to an actual service that does more than simply connect people — you compete with and against these people, join them in teams, and play games. The server-side hardware is much more powerful and offers a multitude of chat functions, a real Marketplace (with cheap, fun, games, movies, TV shows, demos, and more). Facebook offers nothing as sticky or a framework as strong.

What made me think, “Xbox live is similar to Facebook?” The answer is simple — I found myself doing the same things I do on Facebook on Xbox Live.  Those things included searching for friends (and finding the search function lacking), wanting to chat with friends, learn about what they are doing (and in this case, games they are playing) and so forth.

A huge number of my Facebook friends are people that I do not speak with regularly or do not even know personally. I found them because they were friends with my other friends, they were part of groups that I had joined as well (such as my high school group), and so forth. Connections were made and friendships were re-established. I want to play on Xbox Live with those friends but do not have an easy way to know whether they are Xbox Live subscribers. I wish I could find them. My Xbox Live friend group would expand, my use of Xbox Live would grow, and, in the end, both MS and I would win.

MS knows Xbox Live is a powerful tool in fighting Nintendo and Sony (albeit one that can be far more powerful). Do they know that it is also a powerful tool in fighting Facebook/Myspace and even Google? Expand the tools, expand the forums (i.e. make PC usage as powerful as Xbox usage), and create a viable social network.

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