27 04 2011

Once upon a time, there was this rockin’ social media site called MySpace. A few former employees of Friendster (founded in 2002) saw untapped market potential, and launched MySpace in 2003. It was an instant success, attracting millions of users.

So popular was MySpace that it caught the capitalistic eye of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. He whipped out his checkbook and bought the still-fledgling MySpace for $580 million. Never mind that Murdoch knw absolutely nothing about social media at the time. It was a business transaction pure and simple, an investment expected to yield an impressive ROI.

But something happened shortly after Murdoch took the reins. MySpace started losing users. Lots of users. An upstart Facebook (barely out of the business womb at the time of the MySpace acquisition) started snaring eyeballs by the millions. Layoffs quickly followed at MySpace, fol.lowed by even more pink slips. The company today is a but a shell of its former heyday status. In fact, in January 2011, MySpace slashed its remaining 1000 employees by half. The total number of users dropped from 95 million to 63 million in the 12 months ending in February of this year.

Which explains why NewsCorp has now put MySpace up for sale. The asking price: A mere $100 million.

Yikes. Murdoch has some ‘splainin’ to do to the shareholders.

So what the heck went wrong? How can a company possible send millions of people packing? How can a site go from hip and cool to internet ghetto in such a short time?

About the only active users these days are bands. Until recently, Facebook could not accommodate artists very well, but now that music players can easily be added to Fan Pages, even that part of the market is changing. As for the remaining 63 million members, I suspect many are folks who are technically ghost members. You know, people who forgot they even have a MySpace account.

Like me.

Oops. I think I forgot my username and password. Ah, who cares? Maybe the inflated numbers will help them find another sugar daddy.

To answer that first question, though, one need only look at what Facebook has done. They have kept their site simple and uncluttered (in spite of there being 4 ads down the right pane). User pages are not customizable, so the look and feel is always the same. Even Fan Pages, which be customized to an extent, retain the same basic appearance. In other words, everyone knows they are still on Facebook. No garish colors. No confusing overlays of images atop other background images. No run-on tiling of backgrounds. In other words, a consistently fresh, clean look.

And let us not forget the really important stuff, like superior functionality. FB’s suggestion engine is among the best as it helps people find friends. While FB can rightly be criticized for occasionally moving things around (we humans tend to thrive on repetitive patterns), as well as those nagging privacy questions, one thing is for sure: We can count on FB pages to all look uniformly professional. The branding is a constant, and if you are in business to make money, this is mission critical.

Where did MySpace and Murdoch mess up? By simply not observing that FB knows what people want in social networking. It’s not just the network. It is simplicity. Uniformity. Connectivity. Discovery. Predictability. And let us not forget Commercialism.

As for MySpace, it never really thought far enough ahead to consider commercial applications like all of us have come to follow on FB. E-commerce via a social networking page is simply too radical for MySpace to ever grasp. And as for regular users like you and me, it over-estimated our willingness to put up with butt-ugly pages that were nothing more than a patchwork quilt of folks who know little or nothing about design.

In other words, Facebook made it easy for us to do what we do best, which is just type.

$100 million for MySpace? Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t give $10 million. It’s a gutted reminder of what happens when a neighborhood loses sense of self and tomorrow. Fire up the bulldozers and let’s put this baby out of its misery.

Dr “R.I.P.” Gerlich



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