The Facebook-Instagram deal announced Monday is just one in a long succession of ill-advised tech company acquisitions.
Though the Facebook-Instagram deal has been widely praised by observers (and panned by many users of both services), it is poised to be yet another ill-advised acquisition by a tech company looking to throw money into buying a well-established entity rather than innovating something itself.
Facebook is one of the most impressive companies in the world, valued at hundreds of billions of dollars after starting out as just a figment in the imagination of a snotty-nosed college kid (pretty much like any major tech company's backstory.)
But overpaying for companies like Instagram won't help Facebook maintain its dominant market share, as a billion bucks for a fun (and admittedly useful) photo app represents a huge overestimation of how much the company is really worth.
But that seems to be the way of the world in tech circles these days: Large companies looking to diversify have made a habit of bad acquisitions.
And no one knows yet just what Zuckerberg homes to do with the company and its technologies, so perhaps a revolutionary new social/photo amalgamation is on the way, one that will bring in some big bucks for Facebook. Just don't hold your breath.
Here are 5 other ill-advised tech company acquisitions that paved the way for the Facebook-Instagram deal:
1. AOL buying Huffington Post: For AOL, purchasing Huffington Post seemed like an easy way to expand its offerings in the face of what has been a long decline from one of the most-popular Internet service providers of all time to a place for your grandparents to forward e-mails and click random celebrity headlines. But spending $315 million on HuffPo last year has been a huge boondoggle for AOL, which hasn't seen much of an upside to dropping all that cash. But for Arianna Huffington it was like the heavens opening up and raining unjustified amounts of wealth. So I guess at least she's stoked.
2. News Corp. purchasing MySpace: Easily one of the worst deals in the history of deals, Rupert Murdoch's tone-deaf decision to buy The MySpace (as you know he probably called it) was a financial disaster for News Corp. Hoping to dip its toes into the burgeoning social media market, News Corp. purchased MySpace for $580 million in 2005, when the social network still had a little luster left (not really, but old people probably thought it did.) The deal bailed out Tom -- you remember Tom, don't pretend you don't -- who probably had a stroke when he saw the ridic number News Corp. was offering. Six years later, Murdoch was forced to unload it for $35 million, still a few millis too high for a dead entity. One moment of bad judgment and $545 million later, and still no one uses MySpace anymore.
3. Microsoft buying AOL patents: Observers of the other big sale announced Monday say the patents must have some sort of value we're not seeing, but $1.06 billion for 800 patents AOL seems to have accomplished very little with seems like a huge waste by Microsoft. Though patents can protect a company against litigation and pave the way for new products and offerings, this outlay of cash seems ill-advised. But we don't really know all the details of just what these patents cover, and we know that Microsoft is in the midst of a big patent battle with Motorola, which is soon to be a Google holding. So it could end up being a worthy expenditure, if it gives Microsoft a leg up in that showdown. And it's definitely not going to hurt AOL to have all this new money (the company's stock is surging so far.) But as with the Facebook-Instagram deal, much is left to be seen, so this is at best an ill-advised move.
4. Google acquiring Picasa and Picnik: Picasa wasn't that big of a deal when Google bought it in 2004. And in the time since, no one has really adopted it, despite it being integrated with other Google offerings and being associated with the Google brand. In the list of companies that provide similar photo capabilities to those of Picasa, several names -- Flickr, Lockerz, PhotoBucket, YFrog, Instagram, etc. -- come up before Picasa's. So though Picasa allowed Google to expand its offerings into the world of photography, it hasn't been a huge success. And the acquisition of the photo entity Picnik also has seen little benefit. It is pretty difficult to measure how much of a financial impact either of these moves has made for Google, but from the outside looking in, they don't seem to be massive wins for the tech giant.
5. Zynga buying OMGPop: Zynga, a video-game company that many tech and finance experts have long described as an overvalued and overrated commodity, purchased online gaming competitor OMGPop for $210 million earlier this year. The move was likely another example of overpaying for a hot company that will turn out to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. OMGPop has hundreds of thousand of dedicated users and a large share of the free online gaming market, but many people see the company as riding a faddish wave, and that a 9-figure purchase makes little sense. Words With Friends is great, everyone knows that. But is it worth $210 mil? We'll see.