Microsoft: Windows Live Spaces already dead, WordPress.com will only get 1% of 30M users

Windows Live Spaces' shutdown may not be a big win for WordPress.com, after all. According to internal e-mail messages obtained by Betanews, Microsoft expects only about 1 percent of Windows Live Spaces bloggers to move to WordPress.com. If not there then where? In the e-mail exchange, one Microsoft executive asserts about the 30 million active Windows Live Spaces blogs: "Most are dead."

The e-mail exchange took place on Sept. 28, the day after Automattic and Microsoft revealed that Windows Live Spaces would shut down in about six months and that bloggers could migrate their sites to WordPress.com. The announcement asserts there are 30 million "active" Windows Live Spaces blogs. But the e-mail exchange suggests otherwise.

First, some context: Betanews has obtained the e-mail messages but has chosen not to identify the participants in the exchange -- at least at this time. While naming the people in the exchange would add authority to this report, we believe that revealing identities would cause unnecessary badwill with Microsoft and hardship for employees exchanging e-mails internally. They have some expectation of privacy. It's not like we've uncovered terrorists or someone leaking nuclear secrets. Additionally, the statement about the number of migrations was delivered in a specific context about hosting platforms, which will be further explained in a few paragraphs.

30 Million or 300,000?

It's not unusual for companies like Microsoft to overstate statistics that aren't otherwise easily confirmed. There's often huge PR advantage in larger numbers, and reporters tend to assume the figures are correct, particularly when they can't otherwise easily be confirmed. Often lowly public relations employees make these kinds of decisions. In this case, the number means much to WordPress.com, which could conceivably double in size over six months if just half of Windows Live Spaces bloggers migrated to the Automattic service. As of September, WordPress.com hosted 13.9 million blogs.

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."

As I explained yesterday, among the different blogging service options, WordPress.com is likely best fit for Windows Live Bloggers. 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.

Which Priority: Platform or Customers?

When I blogged about the migration yesterday, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that WordPress.com would host the blogs on Azure. In November, Microsoft showcased Automattic as an Azure customer. According to Netcraft, WordPress.com servers run Linux, something another Microsoft employee involved in the e-mail exchange observed and noted about a personal blog moved to WordPress.com from Windows Live Spaces. Several Microsoft employees involved in the exchange expressed concern about moving millions of bloggers from the company's platforms to rivaling Linux.

The Microsoft e-mailers have a point. Their exchange indicates the negative impact the WordPresss.com migration can have on employee morale. Then there is the sales case. How can Microsoft salespeople effectively sell customers on Azure when Windows Live Spaces is going to a Linux cloud?

It's in this context that the senior Microsoft manager asserted that only a small number of Windows Live Spaces blogs would migrate to WordPress.com. He tried to calm the troops, so to speak.

According to sources, Microsoft managers started debating the merits of the platform switch -- Windows to Linux versus best choice for customers -- sometime in mid summer, about the time that Windows Live beta testers received first option to migrate their sites to WordPress.com. Clearly somebody decided to put customers, even those using services for free, before platform decisions. Additionally, just because migrated sites don't run on Azure today doesn't mean they won't in the near-distant future. WordPress.com may yet switch blog-hosting servers to Azure.

The remaining question: "How many?" Is WordPress.com's Windows Live Spaces payday thousands of pennies instead of thousands of dollars, so to speak? "How many?" and "On what platforms?" are the questions I have officially posed to both Automattic and Microsoft.

After I posted, Paul Kim, Automattic's vice president of user growth, responded: "We don't have an exact estimate for how many Spaces bloggers will move over to WordPress.com in the next 6 months, but in the first 48 hours we've completed close to 50,000 migrations which is very promising." That number is impressive enough. Real measure will be the next 48 hours or 48 days.

As for platforms, Kim responded: "WordPress.com, where these migrating Spaces bloggers are moving to, runs on Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP." In a follow-up e-mal, Kim responded: "We don't plan to host any of these blogs on Windows Azure at this time."

Early this evening I received a startling response (finally) from Microsoft's PR agency. The statement: "There are approximately 30 million users on Windows Live Spaces that includes both authors and their visitors. About 7 million are authors -- this means Spaces users, most of whom have a blog and regularly update their content. We expect a significant customer set will choose the great blogging experience offered by WordPress.com."

The statement shaves about 23 million "active" bloggers from Windows Live Spaces and makes more sense of the 300,000 figure. As stated earlier in this post, companies tend to overstate numbers, as clearly Microsoft's PR machine did here.

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