Covering Microsoft for the last eight years, I've seen this pattern time and time again. Internet trend comes along. Microsoft watches. Trend picks up steam. Microsoft watches. Some other company--usually a start-up--creates a site that perfectly crystallizes the trend and achieves a surprising spike in traffic. Microsoft creates a product team somewhere in the bowels of its online organization to come up with an answer. Six to eighteen months later, the imitation launches to general yawns in the press and perhaps some temporary spikes in traffic thanks to Microsoft's massive online reach. (400 million-plus registered users--that's the number of Windows Live IDs out there, and it's sure to get you some cross-traffic.) Endgame: obscurity. Think of MSN Soapbox versus YouTube. Or Windows Live Expo versus Craigslist. Or MSN Music.
This takes the cake for me, though. This week, MSN U.K. launched a new site, MSN Unsigned, that proposes to give unsigned musicians a new chance to reach a bigger audience. Sort of like OurStage has been doing since 2007, and MySpace has been doing since 2004, and Sonicbids since 2000, and CDBaby since 1997, and IUMA way back in 1993. Except that MSN Unsigned doesn't let you upload audio clips, create a home page, find gigs, or communicate with your fans. Instead, it's simply a vehicle for bands who own the rights to their music (look ma, no copyright infringement lawsuits) to upload videos via Soapbox, after which MSN will review them and promote a few on the front. Never mind that most unsigned bands don't have the budget to film a video, but every garage band worth its salt has a folder on their computer filled with music clips. Oh, there's also going to be articles and advice, like this priceless set of tips for aspiring guitarists. (Someone tell Keith Richards--watch the sauce!)
In all seriousness, if you're going to do something halfway, why bother doing it at all? It just makes you look silly.