Brad Feld

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Where Is Microsoft In This Party?

Nov 14, 2007

I’m completely baffled.  Yesterday, Saul Hansell of the New York Times had an article titled Inbox 2.0: Yahoo and Google to Turn E-Mail Into a Social NetworkSaul’s article is short and punchy, but excruciatingly obvious to anyone that has been playing with email for a while.

The amount of "social network" information contained in a typical email user’s data store is enormous.  Google and Yahoo are sitting on huge amounts of very interesting email data that to date they’ve done nothing with.  According to Saul’s article, this is about to change (with the subtle insinuation that "Facebook should watch out.") 

So what.  Seriously.  The real data lives in the gazillions of Microsoft Exchange servers that are distributed around the world and connected to this magical thing called the Internet.  Don’t think about your inbox (or your Outlook PST file) – think about "the server."  Yeah, I know – many large organizations run multiple Exchange servers – just envision an abstraction layer on top of them and think about each address as a single element.

The amount of "social information" – especially in a business context – is staggering.  In the past there have been a few startups like VisiblePath and Plaxo that looked like they might go after some part of this.  Recently, a new wave has emerged like Xobni and ClearContext.  As far as I can tell, everyone is focused on the client side (Outlook) rather than the server side (Exchange).  This confuses me since the information, distribution, and the leverage (especially with regard to selling stuff) is on the server side.

But the bigger and more mysterious question is "where is Microsoft?"  This is their world and their domain.  Over 15 years they demolished IBM/Lotus (and everyone else) in "email" only to be ready to fumble the next wave of this.  I don’t get it.

We learned from our investment in Postini that large enterprises will let parts of this problem live in the cloud.  Google is quickly expanding on this vision.  I’m haven’t concluded whether this should live in the cloud, or be attached to a server, but I don’t think it matters (e.g. either – or rather – both work). It’s about the data, how you surface it, and what you do with it.

Yes, there are privacy issues, but they should be straightforward to address as long as one is being thoughtful about them.  Plus, that’s part of the fun of it.

I’m looking for entrepreneurs that are working on this problem, especially if they love Exchange servers (my ideal entrepreneur is someone who cuddles up to one in the winter to keep himself warm.)  If you don’t know how to integrate with AD (or think AD is a abbreviated version of ADD), don’t bother emailing me.

Maybe I’m missing it (I often do), but it seems like there is magic in the Exchange data.