Nice going, Steve Ballmer.
After suggesting that social networks (like ad partner Facebook) might be passing fancies, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) energetic CEO is either a shrewd negotiator -- or an idiot.
"I think these things [social networks] are going to have some legs, and yet there's a faddishness, a faddish nature about anything that basically appeals to younger people," Ballmer told Times Online on Monday.
Legs? Faddish? Younger people? Oh, snap! Did Ballmer just call Facebook the next Heelys (Nasdaq: HLYS ) ? Don't tell me that he just relegated News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace to the status of a rusting Razor scooter.
Aren't many of the software giant's entertainment appliances, like the Xbox 360 and the Zune, turning to social networks to woo consumers into stickier relationships with Mr. Softy?
And what's wrong with appealing to young people? (My Foolish colleague Tim Beyers was just discussing why IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI ) should buy the social networking/virtual world of Second Life.) Weren't folks like Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Steve Jobs and Microsoft's own Bill Gates once just sharp kids toiling away with the "faddishness" of personal computing? And don't even get me started on what grad-school duos were cooking up when they launched Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , or even Hewlett-Packard.
I'm hoping that Ballmer's comments will turn out to be a negotiating tactic. After all, Facebook's CEO is in his early 20s. If there is any truth at all to last week's The Wall Street Journal story -- citing unnamed sources that had Microsoft looking to buy a small stake in Facebook, valuing the social-networking site at $10 billion to $15 billion -- fad rhetoric like this may prompt Facebook to cash out before it gets too greedy.
Sure. And if you believe that, I have the $1 billion that Yahoo! supposedly offered to swallow Facebook whole last year. Facebook turned it down, and even a pessimistic valuation of Facebook proves that Mark Zuckerberg made the right call at the time.
Facebook has gone on to grow faster than other social networks, closing the gap with market leader MySpace. Embracing developers by opening the site to lucrative widget-concocting programmers has helped Facebook claim the top spot on every brand marketer's to-do list.
Tsk, tsk, Ballmer. Playing the fad card isn't going to work with someone whose arrogance paid off perfectly last year. It's also no way to treat and ad-serving partner.
If Ballmer thinks that Facebook is a fad, one can only wonder how quickly his mental clock must be ticking on Zune's 15 minutes.
Other Facebook snaps: