Peter Kafka

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MySpace Finishes Its AcqHire of iLike: Don’t Think Music, Think “Socialization of Content.” Plus! The Internal Memo.

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Now that MySpace has finished its acquisition of iLike, what it’s going to do with it? Don’t think music, MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta stressed in a press conference today, think about “socialization of content.”

What does that mean? Pretty vague, which, I gather, is Van Natta’s intention.

But in short, what Van Natta is saying is that he has bought a 26-person company–for $19.5 million–because it has engineering talent that is good at building stuff that 1) helps users find content and share it with one other, and that 2) works on multiple platforms.

Van Natta did make a point of downplaying iLike’s ability to help MySpace build out its music offering, though. Which makes sense, because MySpace already has a music platform that it owns in a separate joint venture with the big music labels.

And because while iLike is known as a music platform, it really isn’t. It doesn’t have deals with the music labels that let users listen to full songs, and it only recently launched a way for users to buy songs. What it does do is recommend music based on stuff you like, and lets you share your likes and recommendations with friends.

You can see how the people who built the iLike platform–primarily on the back of Facebook, where Van Natta was formerly COO–could be useful for MySpace, which is in the midst of a drastic overhaul.

Van Natta was brought in to run the once-hot social network at the behest of corporate owner News Corp. (NWS) earlier this year, and has been busily hiring and firing since then.

The iLike deal is Van Natta’s first major acquisition since he came on, but it is essentially a hiring move, too. The plan is to keep all of the company’s key talent, including CEO Ali Partovi, President Hadi Partovi and CTO Nat Brown. (All three are in the picture at the top of this post, along with Van Natta and MySpace COO Mike Jones. From left to right: Ali Partovi, Jones, Van Natta, Brown and Hadi Partovi.)

Speaking of that talent: Asked about All Things Digital’s report about tax issues slowing the last stages of deal, Van Natta declared that “this was actually one of the smoother sailing deals that I’ve been involved in.”

Which may be true, but it doesn’t mean there weren’t tax problems for the company he was acquiring, as well as a delay.

In one email to the entire iLike board on Monday afternoon, titled “late-breaking tax issues with iLike/MySpace merger,” Co-founder Hadi Partovi wrote, referring to his brother and also Co-founder Ali:

“Ali & I recently learned about a potential tax liability that could be significantly disadvantageous to us as a result of the merger.

“We don’t have definitive info yet, and we’re just as disappointed as anybody to learn this at the 11th hour.”

Then, Hadi Partovi sent yet another email to Gregg Winiarski, GC at IAC (IACI) yesterday, titled “potentially significant tax risks for iLike common shareholder (esp Partovis).”

Before IAC had spun off Ticketmaster Entertainment (TKTM) last year, which was one of iLike’s big investors, Winiarski had apparently been involved in some iLike issues around compensation.

So Hadi asked him: “gregg, do you have any thoughts on this? since the structure of moving into common-stock (to avoid income tax) was your idea, I was hoping you [would weigh in].”

Winiarski–in several exchanges, in which Hadi’s brother and also Co-founder Ali Partovi even asked if IAC and Ticketmaster might indemnify them if problems arose–politely declined to weigh in, presumably since IAC was no longer an investor in iLike.

Ali Partovi intently asked for a call “TODAY,” but Winiarski did not bite on that or the indemnification request.

In the end, Ali Partovi wrote: “We’re moving forward with the deal, mainly because Hadi and I are not the types to hold up a deal over this. But I’d appreciate if you’d be open to a discussion about the risk exposure we’re sustaining here.”

Apparently it did not hold up the deal.

Maybe someone can ask Van Natta about that in the all-company meeting MySpace has scheduled for next week, which he mentions in this internal memo announcing the deal:

Hi everyone,

I’m pleased to announce this morning that MySpace has entered into an agreement to acquire iLike.

iLike is a social music discovery service that in just two years has become the largest, most comprehensive music application across all social networks. With 55 million users and 1.5 billion monthly impressions, their growth speaks directly to the usability of the product, the technology behind it, and the great team that built it.

One of the great things about MySpace is that its openness enables discovery–we’re going to take that strategy one step forward by also allowing users to experience content on the distributed Web.

On MySpace, users connect with the content they love in a centralized and social environment. On iLike, users can access the content they love in a highly distributed environment across their favorite websites. This shared vision around content distribution is a key component to the future of MySpace.

What the iLike team has done with music is applicable to all of the areas that are important to MySpace users today such as entertainment, video, and games. Because we view the opportunities of this acquisition beyond the music category, MySpace Inc. will be making this acquisition separate and apart from the MySpace Music joint venture.

The company’s current management–CEO Ali Partovi, President Hadi Partovi, and CTO Nat Brown–will continue to lead iLike’s future. I’ve known Hadi and Ali for almost 10 years and the two of them, along with Nat are talented entrepreneurs with a strong track record for building world class product.

Just to give you a sense of their history and professional achievements:

· Ali established himself as an entrepreneur by co-founding LinkExchange, which started as the web’s first and largest banner-advertising network and grew to become the web’s largest small-business portal before being acquired by Microsoft in 1998. In 2002, Ali became CEO of Garageband.com and then iLike.

· Hadi co-founded Tellme Networks, a leading provider of voice/telephone technology and services, where he ran product and technology, and later spearheaded the company’s shift from consumer services to enterprise call-center automation for AT&T, FedEx, and E*TRADE. Tellme Networks was acquired by Microsoft in 2007. Both acquisitions (LinkExchange and TellMe) rank as two of Microsoft’s biggest deals to date. Hadi was also an original group program manager for Internet Explorer, a general manager of MSN.com, and he incubated Start.com (now Live.com).

· Nat has a deep and respected history as an early architect at Microsoft. He rapidly earned a reputation as one of Microsoft’s foremost technical minds by creating and evangelizing the ActiveX/COM object model in the early 90s. He went on to play a seminal role in the creation of XML, DHTML, and as a primary architect of the first XBox. After retiring from Microsoft, he served briefly as CTO at CAC Media and has informally advised numerous startups.

In addition to this great management team, iLike has 26 employees in various technical and business functions including a market leading development team that will join MySpace. iLike will remain headquartered in Seattle but our teams will be working very closely. I’m excited to see the great things that come out of the collaboration between our management teams, employees, and cultures.

We have an all-company meeting next week and I look forward to seeing everyone and answering any questions you might have.

Please join me in welcoming Ali, Hadi, Nat and everyone at iLike to MySpace.


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