Microsoft to relaunch as a Facebook style social networking site

Microsoft will relaunch its search site as a search + social networking site in something that looks like Facebook.

The new will be focused on social interactions around Windows Live Messenger (previously MSN Messenger) complete with user profiles. Tightly integrated into the new site will be Hotmail/ email as well.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will make it easier for users to maintain a single list of online friends, from which they can address emails, send instant messages and view activity updates through the new Facebook-like “feed” feature that shows, for example, new photos that friends have posted online and short messages they’ve broadcast through Twitter.

Facebook or FriendFeed style, users will be able to import content from external sources such as Flickr, or any service that has an RSS feed.

Microsoft is claiming that the changes are in response to “the proliferation of online communications services…frustrating many users by forcing them to create and manage instant messaging buddy lists, email address books and social network friend lists in information silos.”

It’s a nice line, but this screams social networking wannabe, not that that’s a bad thing given Microsoft has been sitting on a massive untapped user base in instant messaging which it has so far failed to really offer much extra to. Whether this is a serious challenge to Facebook is yet to be seen, but finally Microsoft may be getting serious about social networking, and while we may be naturally skeptical about their changes, Windows Live IM users are over 100 million, and even if they convert a small percentage, they’re the sort of numbers you can confidently apply the label FTW to.