Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Steve ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Ballmer Insults Those Crazy Kids at Facebook

Well, here’s a novel way to negotiate a deal with entrepreneurs you’re interested in a closer relationship with:

1. Call them “faddish.”

2. Compare their start-up to an essentially failed dot-com that managed to snooker a big investor into buying it before the last bubble burst.

3. And, worst of all for geeks, insult their technology as not very “deep.”

You just have to love Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for his chutzpah–smacking Facebook upside the head, at the same time he and his minions have been noodling on whether to make a big, sloppy investment in the hot social-networking site at a potentially huge and ridiculous valuation.


(He’s pictured here, by the way, and I really appreciate that his ebullient personality means there are a million tasty pictures like this out there to choose from.)

I wrote yesterday that those talks were running hot and cold, but given his interview published yesterday in the Times of London, I would say things are a bit frostier than that.

“I think these things are going to have some legs, and yet there’s a…faddish nature about anything that appeals to younger people,” he said to the newspaper, giving a brief nod to Facebook’s networking effects, before continuing in his typical rant-like way by comparing it to GeoCities, which Yahoo bought in 1999 for $3 billion.

This is not a favorable thing, given that GeoCities later became a Web graveyard and a bad purchase for Yahoo.

But then the never-shy Ballmer delivers the coup de grace for techies: “There can’t be any more deep technology in Facebook than what dozens of people could write in a couple of years.”

Ouch! Code bashing! (Which, of course, begs the question: If it was so easy to do, why oh why has Microsoft not done it?)

You might imagine this is simply a negotiating tactic by Ballmer to get Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg off his own personal valuation of $15 billion for his creation and down to a more sane price. But that cat seems to be pretty much out of the bag now and anything less than $10 billion will probably feel impossible for Facebook to accept.

But, to my mind, the utterances in the interview were just Ballmer being Ballmer–he never misses an opportunity to bash, whether it be the iPhone and iPod or Google or, I imagine, the person who brings him his coffee in the morning.

What the interview was to me was him not being able to keep a lid on it after weeks of discussions with Facebook about a deal, especially with the specter of Google stepping in if he does not pony up.

With Microsoft’s stock in the doldrums for years now, a stubborn third-place showing in the online ad and search market after a lot of effort and a general feeling that the software giant–still!–has not cracked the Internet puzzle in a substantial way, it must gore Ballmer (who is worth $15 billion himself) to have to kiss up to Zuckerberg now.

While Ballmer is at heart a salesman, even he cannot sustain a smile for that long when his inclination is to throttle.

(Especially since it has to be apparent that Facebook’s young team is not exactly trembling in fear of Microsoft, as all start-ups used to do. I am told by sources, in fact, they worry about aligning with a company of execs that can’t–save for Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie–really attract and keep the hottest of the current spate of tech stars.)

Personally, I’d love to be able to hear the internal dialog that is going on inside Ballmer’s head as he has been sitting across from Zuckerberg of late.

Just a guess, but I don’t think I could print those thoughts on a family Web site like this.

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.