Microsoft, Playing Catch-Up, Woos Facebook

Hand holding money and young girl in background
The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

Like a grizzled sugar daddy arriving late at the party with a pocketful of cash, Microsoft has approached Facebook - the social networking site and Internet "it" girl of the moment - with proposals in recent weeks to invest in the startup that could value the fast-growing site at $10 billion or higher, the Wall Street Journal reports.

But Facebook has been flirting with Google, Microsoft's rival, for much longer.

Industry gossips see "Microsoft's Internet thrust," as the Journal puts it, as "fueled by concerns among its executives that the maturing tech company isn't moving quickly enough to establish a broad beachhead in the online-advertising world."

Microsoft is in competition with Google, Time Warner Inc.'s America Online unit, Yahoo and others over who will control the platform for buying and selling online ads - and by extension, the way people make money from the Internet - for years to come.

At the moment, Google is kicking Microsoft's mature posterior in this area. The younger Internet giant brought in $3.9 billion in revenue in the second quarter; Microsoft's online group posted a measly $688 million.

But Microsoft is hoping that "a closer relationship" with Facebook, used by 40 million people and growing, can help shift the balance of power. The company is expected to make a profit of $30 million on revenue of $150 million, the leaky people whisper. That makes Microsoft's $10 billion valuation absurdly high, but so long as Facebook keeps playing coy, a price that might be worth it just to beat out Google.

Sunni-Shiite Sectarian Tensions Emerging In U.S.

Oh great. As if the long-festering sectarian tensions in Iraq weren't bad enough, USA Today reports the same hatred and suspicion is now poisoning our own melting pot.

For years, Sunni and Shiite Muslim immigrants to the U.S. got along just fine, the paper reports. They worked together to build mosques, support charities, register voters and hold big feasts for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

But now there are "small signs of tension emerging in America's Muslim community that are raising concerns among many of its leaders," the paper reports.

These signs are indeed small. Some Shiite businesses were vandalized in Detroit, and a few of the owners told the media they thought Sunnis were behind it, mostly because the Shiites had held a big celebration when Saddam Hussein was executed by Iraq's Shiite-led government.

Also, bickering has been reported among Muslim Student Associations at two colleges over whether services will be led by a Sunni or Shiite.

Beyond some accusations on Web sites, that's it - oh, except for this troubling piece of intelligence: a small Sunni group known as the "Islamic Thinkers Society," which has branded Shiites as heretics, has gone online to urge its followers to avoid contact with a range of Islamic studies scholars and theologians.

How seriously should we take this last group? I don't know, but the paper reports they've been "known for distributing provocative leaflets in New York's Times Square."

50 Years After Sputnik: "Some Space Age"

What happened to the space-age future? The one with all the chrome surfaces, high-modern furniture, flying cars and frequent shuttles to a terraformed Mars?

That's the sad theme thrumming through the New York Times' section celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. The whole batch of articles is worth checking out, but two stand out in particular.

One is an essay that tries to come to terms with the fact that it has been 35 years since anybody was on the Moon, or more than 300 miles from Earth for that matter. "Some space age," writes the author. The bummer truth is that NASA works for the president, and curiosity alone doesn't loosen purse strings.

The other is a cheeky but not-really-kidding call to the billionaires of the world to get off their duffs and start investing in private space travel to Mars.

The selling point is simple: how many rich people are still admired five centuries after their death for what they did with their money? The answer is very few who built monuments, but far more who financed explorations. The key is to make sure the exploratory vessel bears the billionaire's name.

Several experts think as little (little?) as $10 billion would do it. That doesn't seem so bad when you put it in perspective. Hey, I'd trade my Facebook page for a ticket to Mars any day.

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