In my final months at Microsoft in ’97, I tried (but ultimately failed) to convince the messenger group to acquire Mirabilis, a small Israeli software company behind the instant-messaging client ICQ.
As product unit manager of the Internet Gaming effort at Microsoft, I noticed that ICQ was becoming a very popular (and growing!) first-stop for gamers to meet before launching a game online. The whisper price of the company in ’97 was $90-100 million, which was too rich for the Messenger group at the time. I thought the Messenger team at the time carried a bit of a "not-invented here" attitude, which extended to our own internal game-matchmaking / instant-messaging tray-application, ZoneMatch. (We would have been happy to implement ZoneMatch through messenger if they had an API. But, like MSN subscription billing, that was forever being put off, and so separate product groups had to roll-their-own.)
ICQ was acquired the following year (1998) by AOL for around $287 million. By the end of ’98, it had surpassed 40 million members.
Today, I look at the dramatic rise of FriendFeed, a very clever nexus-of-social-networking. And I see many of the same things. It’s in the right strategic position to become a viable challenger, perhaps, to Facebook for social interconnection. With connections into Flickr, YouTube, blog sites, anything with an RSS feed, etc., they are developing a pretty valuable "traffic cop and more" foothold amongst people, and may someday soon hold richer "social graph" information than even Facebook. Check it out soon, Microsoft!