SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer maintains a secret Twitter account for providing running commentary on high-school basketball matches: but that doesn't mean he wants to buy the company.
Ballmer's booming voice filled the Santa Clara Convention Center on Tuesday morning at SMX West, where he was interviewed on stage by Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan on a wide range of topics related to Microsoft, Bing, and the company's struggling yet strategically important Internet business. Having wrapped up its search deal with Yahoo and restructured a separate search and advertising deal with Facebook, it wouldn't be surprising if Ballmer was looking for something new to do with that division.
But he appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Silicon Valley's start-up phenomenon du jour: Twitter. Ballmer did not reveal the account that he uses to comment on Seattle high-school basketball (bonus points if anyone can find it), but spoke of his interest in Twitter and said it isn't clear whether Microsoft would eventually want to bring Twitter under its wing.
"As an independent they have a lot of value and credibility with the user community. They want to be an independent company," Ballmer said.
Ballmer said he'd like for Bing to gain more market share, but said the company is mainly focused on making the search experience better across for a wider range of queries. All three major search players are experimenting with ways to present more visual information on a search results page than just a set of links, and Yahoo's Prabhakar Raghavan recently noted that such efforts won't change search habits until they are brought to a much wider range of search results.
Ballmer also acknowledged that at some point, he needs Bing and Microsoft's various Internet businesses to turn a profit: they lost $466 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, arguably one of the best quarters that Microsoft's search team has produced in a long time.