Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand earlier this morning at the Search Marketing Expoin Santa Clara, and sat for a wide-ranging interview on stage in front of about 1,000 visitors, and while much of his comments were about Bing, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft more broadly, and lots of other topics, what he had to say about Twitter was intriguing.
Ballmer was asked directly whether Microsoft would be interested in owning Twitter. Interestingly, he didn't dismiss the idea all together, and judging by his answer, Microsoft has clearly been noodling all this.
"Not clear," says Ballmer about whether it would be a good idea to buy Twitter.
"We have a great relationship, partnership with Twitter. It's not clear to me. I would hate to not have that partnership. Whether we need to own the company is far less clear. In some senses, as an independent, they have a lot of value, a lot of credibility with their user community. Would they have that same credibility with that user community if they were captive? Not clear. They want to be an independent company which means we want have a great partnership with them and do a good job."
Microsoft made lots of headlines with its early investment in Facebook as a way to head off any deeper partnership that might have been under consideration between the social networking giant and Microsoft nemesis Google. That deal was widely seen as a placeholder of sorts for Microsoft should Facebook ever entertain the idea of being acquired. Of course, that was billions of dollars in value ago, and it seems Facebook would probably go public first before submitting to a Microsoft acquisition. Knowing that, maybe Microsoft would be more interested in working some kind of deal with Twitter, which clearly has the eyeballs, but certainly not the path to profitability and growth that Facebook enjoys.