Reuters reports that the second-largest U.S. ISP, Comcast, has agreed to acquire online address book and social networking site Plaxo for somewhere between $145 million and $175 million.
"Comcast will use Plaxo to offer social network links across Comcast-connected devices from TVs to digital video recorders to, eventually, wireless devices, thanks to a new partnership with Sprint, Clearwire and Google."
Plaxo currently has approximately 20 million members, and estimates that it can net up to another 30 million members from Comcast's roughly 24 million television and 14 million broadband Internet subscribers. Comcast had already been working with Plaxo on its SmartZone communications center service, designed to integrate e-mail, voicemail, address books, and instant messaging--scheduled for release later this year. Comcast must have liked what they saw when they started working with Plaxo.
Social networking's humble origins date back to the likes of Listserv and bulletin board services from the 1970's and 1980's. (Purists would argue that social networking was actually born with Arpanet in the 1960's.) But in recent years social networking has become a big moneymaker for Internet businesses, such as MySpace and Facebook. In fact, a recent article by MediaPost's Diane Mermigas goes into great detail how social networking sites are now the hot commodity:
"The race to monetize and leverage the power of social networks is turning into a stampede, as evidenced by Microsoft’s recently renewed efforts to acquire Facebook in the wake of its failed bid for Yahoo. Many of the biggest and most intriguing niche social networks are in play as a result of the Microsoft-Yahoo merger battle, which is fundamentally about potentially lucrative but unrealized advertising and e-commerce gains. Both companies have limited exposure to social networking–the most prominent being Microsoft’s 1.6% stake in Facebook, for which it paid $240 million."
Mermigas goes on to point out that News Corp. now owns MySpace, AOL is in the process of buying Bebo, and LinkedIn was unsuccessfully wooed by News Corp. Reading between the lines she implies that LinkedIn is still up for sale as also might be Ning. The social networking site feeding frenzy is not likely to die out anytime soon, and we can probably expect to hear of more acquisitions in the near future.
This is great for big business, but what does this mean for social networking users? It means exposing social networking to a larger, mainstream audience, and tighter integration with related services and products offered by the acquiring company. In the case of the Comcast-Plaxo acquisition, it can integrate VoIP, IM, and e-mail to the social networking arena. Let's just hope the big corporations don't muck it all up.