Microsoft's reportedly in talks to invest somewhere between $300 and $500 million for a stake in Facebook. Here's what Microsoft could do with it.
Create Microsoft applications to run on Facebook's F8 platform. Live Messenger for Facebook? Live Calendar for Facebook? The possibilities are endless, and Facebook apps for the most part are relatively simple. Microsoft's Popfly mash-up tool already works with Facebook and Microsoft has a Facebook Developer Toolkit for Visual Studio.
Create interoperable ties between Facebook and Windows Live Spaces or even SharePoint. Open social networks may be the future, and Microsoft doesn't seem to be getting much if any traction with Windows Live Spaces just yet. Why not give it a boost by opening Live Spaces users up to a huge group of people with whom to connect?
Secure Facebook as an advertising customer. Forever. Microsoft already has a deal to syndicate ads at Facebook through 2009. Turning Facebook into Facebo-soft should get the company some additional advertising perks, like locking in Facebook's millions of users as advertising customers in perpetuity.
Keep a close eye on a potentially scrappy competitor. Facebook certainly is trendy these days, and Microsoft would clearly like a piece of that, whether the investment potential is real or not. I'm not saying Facebook is anything more than a competitive rounding error to Microsoft right now, but by moving some Redmond spies down to Facebook's Palo Alto office, Microsoft will be better able to understand and dissect the Facebook phenomenon and stalk talent.
Sit on it and block other competitors. Yahoo offered Facebook $1 billion a while ago, and Google also is rumored to be a suitor. These are Microsoft's real online competitors, and a Facebook investment could be a preemptive move by Microsoft just to keep its competitors grimy little hands off.