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Microsoft takes hatchet to YouTube clone

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Microsoft plans to "significantly scale back" its Soapbox service, the would-be YouTube challenger it launched in 2006. Whatever that means.

Speaking with Cnet, Microsoft vice president Erik Jorgensen said that Soapbox's YouTube-like user-generated video setup is just too expensive considering the state of the economy. But he didn't exactly say how Microsoft plans to cut the service's costs.

We've asked Microsoft to explain Jorgensen's statements, and all it gave was more hemming and hawing. "We don’t have anything specific to announce about Soapbox at this time," reads a statement from the company. "We are currently evaluating what the Soapbox brand means to MSN and how it relates to our content strategy.

"Online video is a key part of the MSN experience. Today, MSN Video has 35 million unique users each month, who watch 250 million video streams each month. We remain committed to delivering amazing experiences for consumers while at the same time keeping a keen eye on our business objectives during this tough economic climate."

Redmond launched Soapbox in September 2006, days before Google announced its $1.65bn purchase of the wildly-popular YouTube. Then, just six months later, Microsoft barred new users from the service in order to install anti-piracy filters. After another two months, it reopened, but naturally, it never came close to matching the popularity of its rival - which Google is still struggling to actually make money from.

As we predicted back in the fall, the melting economy has forced Microsoft to re-evaluate attempts to transform itself into some sort of "Web 2.0" outfit, and Soapbox is an obvious place to trim some of the shameless start-up mimicking.

According to CNet, Microsoft will reinvent Soapbox as a place where "bloggers and citizen journalists can post videos relevant to areas in which MSN focuses, categories like entertainment, lifestyle, and finance." So Redmond will pick and choose which videos get posted and which don't. Or maybe not.

First, Jorgensen says that a user-generated free-for-all is too expensive. Then he says he's not so sure. "We haven't decided whether you just continue to support it or whether it is too expensive and out of our focus to do," said Jorgenen, the same man who recently murdered Microsoft Money.

Presumably, Soapbox's YouTube mimicking days are over. But Microsoft can't quite bring itself to say the words. ®

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