MSNBC joined a growing list of media giants dipping their toes into the social media business by acquiring Newsvine for an undisclosed sum.
Whenever I see large companies buying startups whose business models threaten to upend the model of their new parent firms, I sometimes suspect that the acquirer views the new company as something like a science experiment, not so different from an ant farm. The logic is 'we know they're doing something interesting in there that we don't understand, so let's study them for a while and see if we get any cool ideas.'
The danger for the target company, of course, is that getting swallowed into a massive corporation with an existing culture can help kill the type of innovative thinking that helped get you noticed in the first place. The upside, of course, is access to all kinds of money and technology that a startup could never afford.
The purchase, MSNBC's first-ever acquisition, follows moves last year by Fox Interactive, which bought Newroo and integrated its features into MySpace, and Conde Nast's purchase of Reddit, which the magazine publisher folded into Wired magazine's interactive operations.
We're not sure whether any of these large media companies will be able to strike the right balance between leaving alone the creative founders whose talents they bought and making sure they get something for their money, but MSNBC is at least saying the right things at the outset, by promising to let Newsvine operate as an independent unit.
Newsvine, which pays its contributors and lets them keep the copyright to their submissions, uses a combination of software and user voting to determine which stories appear on its site and where. The site gets just over one million unique users per month and is based in Seattle, not far from the home of Microsoft, which owns half of MSNBC.