Editor's Choice

MySpace's Demise

Felix Salmon links to this FT article about the fall of MySpace. What happened? It failed to continue to grow the way News Corp. expected:

by the beginning of 2008, things began to sour. Facebook, a rival social network that was simpler and easier to use, was gaining momentum and starting to grow more quickly than MySpace. Murdoch confidently told the world that MySpace would make $1bn in advertising revenues in 2008 - but the company missed its target. Users began to desert the site, which had become cluttered with unappealing ads for teeth straightening and weight-loss products.... Since then, MySpace has shed 40 per cent of its staff, closed many of its international offices and publicly given up trying to match Facebook in the race to become the world's biggest social network. (MySpace has more than 100 million regular users, Facebook more than 300 million.)... The number of people using the site has also dropped precipitously this year: MySpace's share of the social networking market has tumbled from 66 per cent a year ago to 30 per cent, according to the online research company Hitwise.

Back in the day, I had thought that the logic of social networks demanded that MySpace would inevitably implode like Friendster had before it. I thought the allure of the social-networking thing -- was setting up an exclusive network on a site with distinctive value; once every loser had a page, the important people would need to move on to the new site of distinction -- the social networking sites, I figured, would resemble gated communities, and those who cared would need to keep moving to more fashionable addresses. Facebook's success in becoming the white pages of the internet changed my view on that a bit (it allowed one to replace "googling somebody" with a search that would potentially yield juicier, more actionable results), as has the evolution of Web 2.0 functionality. The social network offers a simulacrum space in which to broadcast the person you want to seem to be from moment to moment to a prescreened, sympathetic audience, for whom the site makes it easy to respond and provoke further broadcasts. It builds an archive at the same time, becoming a kind of public scrapbook rolling along in real time. All the while, as its functionality expands, the site itself seeks to sink into the background -- Facebook's appeal is not based in its brand value but in its normality and its ubiquity.

MySpace never achieved that for most people -- it seemed like a place to listen to band demos more than anything else. That is to say, its purpose always seemed more commercial than social for those creating profiles, whereas Facebook from the start has cultivated users who are not using the site as a platform to fame. Instead the idea was that if you weren't listed, it would be like you didn't exist.

So I don't think this analysis from the article about MySpace's peak in 2005 is precise enough:

Millions of teenagers across the world adored MySpace, spending hours every day connecting with each other online and fine-tuning ­personal profile pages that reflected their tastes and personalities. News Corp had new-found cultural cachet thanks to them - and to the popularity of MySpace with new filmmakers and musicians such as the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen, who became sensations on the site, releasing songs to fans before their first albums appeared.
The last point tends to negate the first point -- MySpace became a place to promote media, not a place to replicate your social self. So the teens using MySpace were largely in the impossible position of competing with celebrities; they were in the process of fantasizing about becoming celebrities. The article mentions how MySpace's staff had "always been proud of the culture of com­munity among the website's 100 million users," believing that "theirs was an edgier site, with a younger demographic. One employee even had jokey stickers printed saying: Your Mom is on Facebook." Of course, that's why Facebook's user base is still expanding. It is not trying to be "edgy." Facebook -- insidiously, I think -- makes social networking seem not like a bid for cybercelebrity but instead a prerequisite for social recognition. Its goal: "How can I say hello to you if you are not on Facebook?"

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