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We know now that the Myspace empire has gone bad. It hasn’t busted, but it’s come damn close. And if history teaches us any lessons about empires, it is that they are neither immutable nor invulnerable.
In figures alone, Myspace acutely instantiates this truth: in 2007, it was valued as high as US$12-billion; today, it’s just been sold to Specific Media for US$35-million. Ouch.
Back in 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp acquired Myspace for US$580-million. At the time, Myspace’s ascent on the social media-sharing platform seemed unmatchable. Facebook was still in its infancy, and Twitter was just a bricolage of potential ideas – ones that wouldn’t really come to fruition until 2007. Myspace appeared invincible. By August 2006, the company had registered its 100-millionth account and had for all intents and purposes become the default online space for media sharing and peer-to-peer networking across the world.
So what happened?
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, featured on TechCrunch, Napster co-founder Sean Parker proffered the following explanation as to why Myspace bombed:
[Myspace failed] to execute product development. They weren’t successful in treating and evolving the product enough, it was basically this junk heap of bad design that persisted for many many years. There was a period of time where if they had just copied Facebook rapidly, they would have been Facebook. They were giant, the network effects, the scale effects were enormous.
It’s hard to know what Parker means by “bad design”. But comparing the two platforms, what’s clear is that the Myspace GUI was too media-heavy when compared to the cleaner and more functional Facebook. Many technology commentators have pointed out that News Corp’s stubborn fixation with generating revenue as quickly as possible was a death knell for its new acquisition.
Effectively, it meant a superabundance of ads on Myspace’s already cluttered interface. And while Murdoch may have been eagerly rubbing his palms together for a tidy balance sheet to justify his purchase, the visual baggage of Myspace fast became excessive, and was markedly counterintuitive to communication-focused users wanting the platform for networking with friends and sharing content rather than facing a barrage of push and pull media.
Myspace went through several design and functional iterations in an effort to refresh its content after gradually losing its user base from 2008 onwards. It changed landing pages, introduced status updates and applications, added a recommendation engine and even acculturated some of its site aesthetics to mimic Facebook’s marvelous simplicity. But the likes of Facebook and Twitter had grown too fast too furiously for Myspace to compete meaningfully.
In a digital environment where users seek core functionality first and foremost, having too many social networking providers can translate into potentially cumbersome compatibility constraints. It’s like being allowed to send and receive emails from within a single domain only — eventually users will flock to where “everyone else” seems to be going in order to stay connected.
In a perfect world, Facebook and Myspace would allow cross-platform sharing, pooling their resources to maximise user utility. But unless it were mutually profitable, that’s just not how the capitalist economy does business. Facebook’s immense growth momentum, its innovative presentation, its focus on usability with clean aesthetic lines, all translated into what was becoming a centralised online universe where you could find almost anyone.
I’m sorry both for Myspace and the many staff there who have lost their jobs as result of the purchase agreement. But I know that empires come and go, and Facebook is certainly not immune to decline. Google, for instance, seems particularly determined to add the social layer to its already potent internet presence via Google+. Can it beat out Facebook and Bing’s partnership to give users superior forms of search organsation based on peer-to-peer networking data? If anyone can do it, Google can.
Myspace isn’t quite off the radar yet, though. Justin Timberlake’s recent minority stake in the company has attracted some positive media attention. A slew of loyalists have applauded his role as creative director, and many more news users have signed up to the platform to welcome the singer via his official profile.
In an interview with MSNBC , Specific Media’s Tim Vanderhook made the point that Myspace still retains about 70-million users. “One thing that we love about MySpace,” he said, “is that it’s iconic, and when it comes to the online space, iconic brands always have the ability to bounce back.”
Photo credit: http://socialtimes.com