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Microsoft Ventura: The Pandora Killer?

Microsoft Ventura: The Pandora Killer?

Microsoft may be taking a shot at Pandora: the company is hiring developers to work on a project code-named Ventura, a set of services that will “revolve around music\video discovery and consumption,” reports Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. The service will reportedly include ratings, recommendations, and comments from users.

If true, this would be at least the third attempt Microsoft has made in this area.

The original premise of the Zune player and service was social discovery — remember the tagline “Welcome To The Social“?

The Zune launched with a Web service that let users check out what their friends were listening to and comment back and forth. If you bought a Zune Pass subscription, you could listen to the same songs. Eventually, Microsoft moved this kind of social recommendation and sharing into the Zune PC software and Zune player.

The only problem: the service was open only to Zune users, and Microsoft never sold enough devices for it to become useful. Social networks are only interesting if your friends are on them. (To Microsoft’s credit, this service launched in 2006, before it was clear that Facebook would dominate.)

But there’s even an earlier precedent: in 2000, Microsoft paid a reported $65 million to acquire a company called MongoMusic, which was building a music recommendation engine very similar to the Music Genome Project used by Pandora. Like Pandora, the goal was to help users discover songs they might like and create personalized radio stations. (Mongo was also building a digital music locker — another idea that’s become popular lately.)

An employee who joined during the acquisition once described how he and his colleagues listened to hundreds of songs and categorized them by style, tone, tempo, and many other characteristics. This person claims Mongo’s technology was much better than Pandora’s, but the MSN group squandered the opportunity and the technology went nowhere.

Meanwhile, Pandora survived long enough to find its footing with a hugely popular iPhone app, and recently filed for a $100 million IPO.

Nowadays, video is more popular than audio, so it makes sense for Microsoft to focus this new service on both. If it ever gets done, Microsoft could launch it as a standalone Web site or application, or could distribute it as part of another product like the Windows Media Player, Zune platform, or Xbox Live.


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