Social networking site Bebo said Monday it will partner with Microsoft Corp to use the software maker's Windows Live instant messaging service on its site and simplify the exchange of contacts.
Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, is aggressively seeking partnerships with social networking websites as a way to become a major player in the growing market for Internet services and online advertising.
Social networking sites have attracted millions of users who spend hours creating their own pages and finding friends. They have become among the hottest names in the technology industry because they own a loyal and engaged audience, offering rich advertising opportunities.
Bebo, the largest social networking site in the UK, will allow its 36 million global users to export and import contacts between its site and contacts lists maintained on Microsoft's Windows Live online services.
It also plans to introduce a service run by Windows Live to to allow its users to instant message one another with one click from their profile page. Those users with Windows Live accounts can add a "IM Me" icon on their profile pages.
"Our core strength is not building applications. We're more of an open platform and much more likely to partner than build it ourselves," said Joanna Shields, president of Bebo's international business.
About 90 percent of Bebo users already use Windows Live IM services, according to Shields, making Microsoft the most logical partner.
The alliance with Bebo, a social network centered around music, marks the first time Microsoft has partnered with a social networking site to run communication services like instant messaging.
Microsoft has more than 300 million Windows Live users, who frequently log in to check e-mail and instant messages. Those users represent Microsoft's most valuable asset in catching Web leaders Google Inc and Yahoo! Inc.
Microsoft targets Web 2.0
In recent months, Microsoft has announced deals to broker display advertising with fast-growing social network Facebook and news site Digg -- two of the hottest names in the "Web 2.0" phenomenon.
Web 2.0 is a catch-phrase for the new generation of Internet services that run interactive software accessed through a Web browser and rely on content generated by users to attract more visitors to sites.
Social networking sites built on the Web 2.0 platform often center around different focus areas. Facebook began as a site only for college students, while MySpace users often use the site to find and try new music.
In an interview conducted earlier this month, a Microsoft executive said the company sees people belonging to multiple social networks.
"It's not proven to me that there is going to be one killer immersive user interface that is going to be the ultimate social networking user interface," said Chris Jones, a Microsoft corporate vice president in the Windows Live group.
Microsoft has invested heavily into building a common contacts database through years of offering e-mail and other communication services. It sees that database -- filled with more than 25 billion contacts -- as the core of any social networking strategy.
"Because we have a common list of people with the contacts and people they care about and communicate with, we are just going from activity to activity and scenario to scenario," said Jones. "It starts with the contacts list."
By: Daisuke Wakabayashi