Assessing Microsoft's LinkedIn purchase

Cue the Clippy jokes...

Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

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The world's biggest software company is joining forces with the web's "default résumé portal," said Rachel Lerman and Matt Day in The Seattle Times. Microsoft announced this week that it's buying LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, the largest acquisition in the company's history. The marriage makes a lot of sense; it propels Microsoft toward its goal of being the "builder of software that makes other businesses tick," and gives LinkedIn "a reach it couldn't achieve on its own." Some 1.2 billion people use Microsoft's Office software for everything from email to editing, but not much connects those users to one another. "LinkedIn's tools could fill that gap," and its trove of data on 433 million users could help Microsoft better understand "how people work and how its software can help them work better."

Cue the Clippy jokes, said Brian Feldman at New York. When news of the sale broke, self-styled Twitter comedians immediately started posting photoshops of Microsoft's early 2000s digital assistant—the infuriatingly cheerful paper clip Clippy — reincarnated as the messenger of those relentless "Hi, I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn" emails. But jokes aside, this deal is an admission that "the social network rules the future of work." Microsoft envisions a day soon when "LinkedIn won't just be the place you go to look for a new job or network," but competes with firms like Slack as the place where you interact with current colleagues. The union also provides Microsoft with incredible data-mining capabilities to "inform [its] product strategy," with insights on everything from what skills Googlers are adding to their résumés to what types of candidates job recruiters are seeking.

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Too bad Microsoft "has a poor record of making acquisitions pay," said Shawn Tully at Fortune. Last year, the software giant took an $8 billion hit on its disastrous 2014 acquisition of phone maker Nokia. It also has "little to show" for its $8.5 billion purchase of Skype in 2011. Microsoft might yet turn LinkedIn, which hasn't been profitable since 2013, into a moneymaker, but history says "the chances are slim." Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says LinkedIn will continue to run independently, said Will Oremus at Slate. But "let's hope that's a false assurance," because he'll need to be hands-on for Microsoft to realize the potentially game-changing integrations, like using LinkedIn data to power Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant. Imagine a future in which Cortana taps LinkedIn to prep you for a business meeting, "whispering names and biographical details in your ear," while suggesting shared interests to cement a connection.

For LinkedIn, this deal is a life raft, said Maya Kosoff at Vanity​ Fair. In February, the firm's stock plunged 45 percent on weaker-than-expected earnings; this week, the stock jumped 50 percent on news of Microsoft's purchase. Oddly enough, Twitter may be an indirect beneficiary. Many investors have been hoping that a deep-pocketed tech giant will scoop up the embattled social network, "but deal making has been slow in Silicon Valley this year." If Microsoft's purchase is a sign of renewed appetite for tech acquisitions, "Twitter stands to be next."

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