Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is merging three of its research groups to ramp up its efforts in “social computing.” The company’s Rich Media Labs, Startup Labs, and a Microsoft Research creative systems group are being combined into a new 80-person group, dubbed FUSE Labs, which Microsoft says will “explore new social, real-time and media-rich applications and services that add value to existing products, or could be released (on) their own.” FUSE will be led by Lili Cheng, who had previously directed the creative systems group, which developed the recently released Kodu, an Xbox 360 game that teaches kids programming skills. Cheng, who has been at Microsoft for 14 years, previously worked at Apple (NSDQ: AAPL).
In a memo to staff, Microsoft Chief Architect Ray Ozzie says the new group “will prioritize efforts where its capabilities can be applied to areas where the company’s extant missions, structures, tempo or risk might otherwise cause us to miss a material threat or opportunity.” He says that the three groups being combined already have “concrete skills and code in areas where ‘social’ meets sharing; where ‘social’ meets real-time; where ‘social’ meets media; where ‘social’ meets search; where ‘social’ meets the cloud plus three screens and a world of devices.” But together, he says, the groups will bring “more coherence and capability” to those efforts.
Microsoft has made other changes to its internal labs lately due to “changing business conditions” — something that Ozzie acknowledges in the memo. In April, the company downsized its high-profile Live Labs group, which was tasked with speeding up innovation in the company’s online businesses.