Bill's Gold Watch

Bill Gates is sure taking his sweet time retiring. While he is busy hyping yet another Microsoft research project to the CEO Summit, Google has vaulted several huge steps ahead in the cloud infrastructure battle with Friend Connect. Mike Arrington’s audience with WonderWall given all due props, what on earth does this have to do with how to spend the 44 billion left on the table after the Yahoo meltdown?

The product manager of this gizmo is none other than Chris Pratley, the genius (seriously) behind OneNote, the Tablet product that briefly made that platform relatively salivating on my way out the door to Macland. Of course, in the OneNote days, it was impossible to get past Allchin and the Office Palace guards to encourage a free OneNote player for the browser. Now Mesh is in the oven, and Silverlight is that freely redistributable player. The times they have a-changed.

But Bill’s pet projects will just not cut it while Google methodically mows down the marketplace with these silly little social media chunks of code. It’s not that Friend Connect is going to slow Facebook down; to the contrary, it’s going to consolidate Facebook’s equity in social metadata and create a groundswell of OpenID adoption which in turn will drive Open Social app development.

Each new OpenID registration produces warm fuzzy feelings for Web site owners who become part of an expanding network of reuse of the original log-in. The terms of service for accessing social clouds will normalize over the next few months as users gravitate toward sites that leverage their original investment in OpenID registration. It’s a Frequent Flyer strategy, producing affinity based on less work, common interface guidelines, and pressure on Facebook and outside clouds to modify their terms of service to avoid having to reinitialize access to their social data over and over.

The same dynamics are starting to accelerate in real time streams over Jabber and XMPP. Facebook is soon to open access to their Chat service, eventually allowing the kind of piping currently enabled between Gchat/Talk, iChat, AIM, and Twitter, which together produce a common set of streams that all are recorded and archived in Gmail’s Chat repository and made available to a single search. Once users don’t care how or even if this aggregation is going on, they view the composite service as the application, removing the motivation for switching.

Of course, the last time we saw this type of viral spread, it was Adsense carried on the river of the blogosphere. Now, with Twitter’s social graph being formed out of the combination of follow and filtered Track, Friend Connect can provide infrastructure to model the unique characteristics of Twitter’s dynamic graph using Facebook’s avatars. LinkedIn’s business relationships, and, eventually, Open Social widgets across high-value sites. Oh, by the way, MyBlogLog — see ya.

But don’t think that just because Google will prosper that Microsoft won’t. Live Mesh can fit into this like a glove, feeding downstream vertical versions of affinity groups to skinned Silverlight containers. We’re within weeks of offerings already from Twhirl, FriendFeed, Summize, and others we just haven’t been told about yet. All Microsoft needs to do is get Bill his gold watch and get back to work.