Leaked Internal Emails Show Microsoft Overstated Windows Live Spaces Numbers

Joe Wilcox at BetaNews has posted a must-read article in the wake of the announcement – made at TechCrunch Disrupt SF – that the Redmond software giant would be transitioning all its Windows Live Spaces users to Automattic‘s WordPress.com platform.

You may recall Dharmesh Mehta, Director of Product Management for Windows Live, stating that there were roughly 30 million active Windows Live Spaces accounts.

Wilcox, however, has managed to obtain internal e-mail messages exchanged between (yet unnamed) Microsoft employees that suggest far lower numbers.

However, according to a senior Microsoft manger e-mailing colleagues: “The net is: 300k sites are expected to migrate of the 30M ‘blogs’ — most are dead. WordPress is adding somewhere in the order of zero servers to handle this capacity. This was a ‘who has the best online service for blogging for our customers’ and had nothing to do with technology.”

Ouch – so basically most of the 30 million so-called active blogs are in reality dead, and Microsoft expects a mere 300,000 sites to effectively migrate to WordPress.com (which currently hosts just south of 14 million blogs).

Wilcox points out, correctly, that it’s not unusual for companies of any size to overstate statistics that aren’t otherwise easily confirmed for PR reasons. That’s undeniable, but it doesn’t justify the fact that Microsoft not only overstated the number of active Windows Live Spaces accounts to the press, but presumably also to the startup it was partnering with.

For context: the email exchange wasn’t centered around the number of Spaces accounts, per se. In fact, the conversation that was leaked to BetaNews revolved mostly around the fact that Automattic runs WordPress.com from Linux servers, something Microsoft (which offers an alternative platform named Azure) was obviously uncomfortable with.

The senior Microsoft manager emphasized customers and not technology for a reason. Earlier in the exchange, Microsoft decision-makers debated about customers moving from Internet Information Server running on Windows Server to ngix running on Linux. “I’m hoping for a second half to this story, where we’re hosting these WordPress sites on Azure…moving 20+ million to Linux seems like shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of securing the platform,” wrote another Microsoft employee.

Microsoft’s PR agency has responded to the leaked emails, suggesting the “30 million active users on Windows Live Spaces” actually included both authors and visitors. It clarified further, saying the real number of active authors is closer to 7 million.

Automattic has also commented to Wilcox on the story, saying that, while the company doesn’t have an exact estimate for how many Spaces bloggers will move over to WordPress.com in the next 6 months, it has seen close to close to 50,000 migrations in the first 48 hours, which it deems “very promising”.

In a comment on this Guardian article, Paul Kim, VP of User Growth at Automattic, adds that “if there are only 300,000 actual active blogs (1% of 30 million), we’ll be able to determine that very soon”. Note the word “only” in that comment.

Automattic also made it perfectly clear that it doesn’t plan to host any WordPress.com blogs on Windows Azure for the foreseeable future.