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Summary:

By Robert Young If history of online communities is any indication, then myYearbook seems to be a worthy contender against the reigning champ of social networks, Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace. From 1992 (when the commercial Internet was officially born) to 2002, online communities were kind of a […]

By Robert Young

If history of online communities is any indication, then myYearbook seems to be a worthy contender against the reigning champ of social networks, Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace.

From 1992 (when the commercial Internet was officially born) to 2002, online communities were kind of a weird, off-beat space. By “weird” I don’t mean anything negative… what I mean by it is that it wasn’t mainstream. Rather, online communities attracted the edge cases of the population: the intellectuals, the very shy, the anti-socials, the dysfunctionals, the medically/health afflicted, etc. Generally speaking, it became a haven for people who had difficulty dealing face to face with carbon-based life forms. In that sense, the advent, and the democratizing nature, of the Internet and online communities proved to be of huge benefit to society. Probably the only exception were the teens that chatted on AOL. This last exception serves as the perfect segue to the rest of my post.

When social networking was jump started by Friendster in 2002, something subtle, something radical and different, started to happen. The twenty-somethings (grown up AOL teen chatters) that initially flocked to Friendster were *not* the nerds of that generation. They included the cool kids, along with the nerds of course… in other words, a nice cross-section of people representative of the mainstream. In short, Friendster disrupted the online communities by bringing in the average folks into the fold.

As we all know, Friendster couldn’t pull it off at the end, and MySpace took the crown. The biggest advantage that MySpace has today is that it’s so very “cool”. Given that, do you know what its biggest liability is? It’s actually the same thing… it’s too cool. If the article on MySpace in the current March issue of Vanity Fair magazine is any indication (sorry, no link available), they are the Paris Hilton of social networks. And just as Paris cannot stay hot forever, MySpace’s cool will fade.

But myYearbook is different. It’s beyond cool… it’s orthogonal to cool. For the teenagers in high school, it’s rapidly becoming a necessity… on par with other daily essentials like IM, email, and a cell phone, it’s not just a nice thing to have, it’s becoming a must-have. The way myYearbook does this is by providing teenagers with the tools to digitally and seamlessly extend nearly every aspect of their lives. It would take too long for me to go into many of their unique features here… the best thing to do is to sit with some teenagers and go through the site piece by piece (you’ll hear a lot of “sweet!”).

As you’ll quickly realize, the features and functionalities offered within myYearbook enable teenagers to facilitate and optimize their real-world social lives and their careers as high school students. Conversely, if you’re not on myYearbook, you will be at a disadvantage, one that becomes more severe with time. For instance, in schools where the teens have adopted myYearbook, parties are planned with the service, they collaborate on classes and extracurricular activities, you can see who’s popular or who lives near you with similar interests… even their search engine is optimized for socialization. Of course, this is all on top of pretty much everything you can do with MySpace. In a complete reversal of the first ten years of online communities, where the inhabitants were the edge cases of society as I described above, for a teen in a high school today where myYearbook has presence, the edge case is the one that *doesn’t* belong to the service. Consequently, this is something that is not well understood by many “older” execs and investors today.

Observing the way these kids rely on myYearbook has enormous long-term strategic implications for how C3s (the “consoles for consumer control” I mentioned in my previous post) will eventually develop to impact the mainstream market at large. For instance, my mouth waters at the thought of envisioning the possibilities that will result when the functionality of myYearbook inevitably collides with all the benefits inherent with feed syndication (e.g. RSS). In fact, many Web 2.0 tools/services will enable myYearbook to dynamically grow with the individual, morphing features & functionality over time with evolving tastes and needs. These pages harness and digitally represent all that is important to them and what they pay attention to. That’s the fundamental foundation and power of C3s in an attention economy.

At this point, many of you are probably wondering… what about Facebook.com? How will myYearbook fare against Facebook? Well, my immediate response is an obvious one… they should be talking to each other about a merger, as Facebook is to college what myYearbook is to high school. However, if there’s no deal, my bet is that myYearbook will gradually edge out Facebook, and for a very simple reason.

There are about 20 million high school teens in the U.S. At its current rate of growth, it’s not difficult to imagine that a huge share of them will soon be on myYearbook. Now, further imagine them all graduating, at some point, and going off to college. Remember, these kids will have invested a lot of their lives into myYearbook. With myYearbook offering them the ability to “upgrade” to the college level, what would you do at that juncture? Would you decide to pick another service and trash everything that you’ve built? Or would you keep your investment and simply modify it sufficiently to reflect your growth and maturity? My bet is the latter. Talk about high switching costs! Bottom line is that I can envision successive waves of myYearbook “graduates” decimating the ranks of Facebook with every year that passes. As I mentioned in the first part of this post, there is significant benefit to focusing on the teenaged demo (which, consequently, is the youngest group that any web service can address, legally).

Now, having said all that, myYearbook’s success is by no means a slam dunk. Even if they execute perfectly, wrestling away meaningful market share from MySpace is going to require a lot of luck and excellent timing, not to mention the daunting challenge of having to go up against the vast resources of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. But of all the potential contenders out there, I think myYearbook is the one to watch (particularly if they align with a major strategic whose resources are comparable to those of Murdoch’s).

For powerful insight into the general impact of social networking in today’s society, I would highly recommend you read the transcript of the speech danah boyd recently gave to the AAAS. Although Danah uses MySpace to illustrate the sociological significance of social networks to teens, in my view, everything she observes goes double for myYearbook.

(n.b. I know many of you are disappointed that I didn’t go into myYearbook’s business model. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose their plans as they remain confidential. Suffice it to say, their success in capturing such a tight demo in teens will yield them not only premium monetization opportunities, but also much flexibility in terms of monetization schemes. In other words, it won’t be just the regular run-of-the-mill ads; instead, I expect to see exciting and unconventional initiatives that reflect the fact that teens don’t like to be advertised at, but instead prefer high levels of engagement where brands become intertwined with their social personalities and status).

  1. there you have it from someone that probably wasn’t a social influencer growing up. going to college is about change and kids will leave myyearbook behind without giving a 2nd thought to the time or effort they have invested. it might be “sweet” for 9th grade but it’ll be “whack” in college!

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  2. Your point is well taken, but it’s not mutually exclusive to my thesis. Success in migration will all depend on how well myYearbook develops and executes on its “college level” service. And as long as myYearbook enables dramatic transitions between life-stages with high degree of freedom, the kids will see value in maintaining and evolving their digital life in one place/service.

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  3. Facebook recently jumped into the high school scene, so I think they can pull their influences into that genre as well. It seems to me that Facebook’s infrastructure and user experience are much more refined than myYearbook, and to me I think that could also say a lot about how refined each of their business models could be.

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  4. Honestly, I feel like that’s the name of the game. Teenagers are fickle by nature. That’s why teenager products always need to be reinvented and updated (think about the sidekick phone). Even if Facebook makes a play, it will follow a similar lifecycle to MySpace unless it truly innovates.

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  5. Facebook is the most likely to succeed out of this whole Social Network sphere. They are actually more of a social directory than a social network. So why do I say this? Simple, because Facebook has more utility than novelty. Facebook provides a service that allows college students to keep in contact with old friends, find students in their courses, and look up contact information immediately. Of course Facebook provides novelty like poking and sometimes weird/funny groups too, but at the end of the day utility outweighs novelty on Facebook. If a site is built upon novelty like myspace mostly is and myyearbook, they can be replaced every few years in a cycle. This is most often reflected in the real world, the same way a hot nightclub in Miami just loses its steam and goes out of business (Also, see OM’s paris hilton factor). Along with this great utility aspect, Facebook does provide a VERY simple layout. Now, if myyearbook works on their utility aspect by making it a real tool that can’t just be replaced, along with cleaning up their design, then facebook might just have one hell of a fight.

    -Jason L. Baptiste

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  6. Look, this myyearbook boondoggle is getting out of hand.

    These kids did not launch a succesful social network by any means. The site simply took over another domain name that had a lot of traffic already by doing dating/”what kind of person am I” tests.

    If you look at the wikipedia entry, you can see that it “merged” with zenhex.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MyYearbook.com

    If you look at the traffic, you can see that the switchover from zenhex to myyearbook did not dramatically increase traffic. And given that there a lot more pages to look at on myyearbook than zenhex, if the number of users stayed consistent, traffic should have gone up more than this.

    Anyone that has anything to say about myyearbook should really look at this graph first:

    http://www.alexa.com/data/details/trafficdetails?&range=1y&size=medium&comparesites=myyearbook.com&y=r&url=zenhex.com#top

    When you take into account all of the mainstream press myyearbook has gotten, it is clear that the real traffic growth from real users has been a dramatic failure. Look at all of the people linking to them. Where is the real usage on there?

    So let’s see, they switched a succesful site to a crappy social network and their real traffic went down. And people are suggesting they can take down MySpace and Facebook. Ha.

    I think this is a perfect example of reporters/pundits that are too old to “get it” knowing that they don’t “get it” and just buying into the hype without digging too deep. Could a wireless networking startup get away with this kind of crap?

    So the moral of the story is: build a succesful site doing something simple that people will like, such as free dating tests. Them find a hot/flavor of the month space to get into, and switch the domain name to point from the original site to the new one. Your alexa for the new site will go through the roof and you will hoodwink a lot of people that should know better.

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  7. have you guys heard of MOG yet?

    you will. ; )

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  8. I wanted to clarify the record with respect to myYearbook growth, which has organically grown (not counting any acquisitions) 1,000% in new users per day since the start of the school year.

    I am one of the bigger myYearbook “kids” — age 27 :-) and the founder of EssayEdge.com and ResumeEdge.com which I sold to Thomson before leaving in May to focus on myYearbook.

    myYearbook.com new user growth has been dramatic. This chart separates myYearbook vs. Zenhex new user growth:

    http://www.myyearbook.com/images/new-user-chart.gif

    Two things are obvious from this chart. First, Zenhex was getting 500 new users per day and was flat. Second, myYearbook is now up to about 5,000 new users per day (or 1,000% growth since the start of the school year).

    On the pageview side, myYearbook bought Zenhex when Zenhex was receiving 1M pageviews a day. myYearbook now has between 4 – 5M pageviews a day, up from 100,000 PVs a day at the start of the school year before it began expanding beyond the founders high schools in August.

    I would also add that Alexa is well known for not measuring teen traffic correctly (or any population that does not download the Alexa toolbar in numbers proportionate to other populations).

    Media Metrix, however, shows a myYearbook growth rate December vs. November of 44% (both months after Zenhex integration and thus worthy of comparison) among 13 – 17 year olds and 18 – 21 year olds.

    During this same period of 44% myYearbook growth, it is notable that Facebook experienced 9% shrinkage at the high school population.

    This Media Metrix report makes that clear:
    http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/8214.asp

    Moreover, the VCs and others who have taken a close look at myYearbook have taken this chart http://www.myyearbook.com/images/new-user-chart.gif as evidence of the success of the yearbook console, not the opposite.

    Geoff Cook
    gcook@myyearbook.com

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  9. To “anonymous” who raised the Zenhex deal:

    You are half right, and half wrong. When myYearbook integrated Zenhex, of course it spiked traffic… that’s the whole point of doing such a deal. Smart move in my book.

    That said, their traffic and new signups have grown materially since then. You should know better than to trust Alexa data for any site that has less than 5 MM UV/month, especially for a site that targets the teen demo (they don’t use Alexa toolbars). Also noteworthy is the fact that most of myYearbook’s growth can be attributed to MySpace defectors.

    Let me also respond to the excellent comments about Facebook. IMO, Facebook is indeed a great service that has very successfully cornered their market. Consequently, and in the long run, I consider Facebook to be more of a challenge to an upstart like myYearbook than even MySpace.

    But at the end of day, you gotta admire myYearbook for having gotten this far with only $250k of financing, particularly in the context of heavily VC-backed Facebook and media mogul-backed MySpace.

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  10. To start with here is a fixed link to the 1 year graph comparing zenhex to myyearbook:
    http://tinyurl.com/p7k5f

    Notice that myyearbook has literally zero traffic before and the curve between the 2 switches perfectly.

    Ok Robert,

    So of course the zenhex deal was a smart move, but my point is that it is all smoke and mirrors. If you look at the marketing for myYearbook there was no mention of the fact they pointed an already succesful domain name at it. They had the alexa graph plastered all over the place, and every single article I have seen about them mentions alexa. The fact that they (and you since you have linked to it before) throw alexa all over the place is what made me look at it to start with.

    Also, I believe your logic is flawed about the toolbar usage. Zenhex was 100% a teen centric site. Go and look in the google cache. If I grant your assertion that alexa under-represents teens because they don’t install the toolbar, then why would moving from one teen-centric site to another teen-centric site change the relative representiveness of the data? It is an apples to apples comparison, and shows flatline growth at best.

    And actually you bring up an even stronger part to the “there is no story here” element because the kind of people that read GigaOm and BusinessWeek etc. do have the alexa toolbar. Those are all the people that have been clicking through and messing around with the site when things like this get posted. Also, they were also on the front page of alexa for movers and shakers, which gets tons of clickthroughs and doesnt hurt your alexa ranking.

    The point is that there are real myspace/facebook competitors with real traffic. myyearbook is not one of them. I’m tired of seeing their ethically challenged marketing & fund-raising strategy in my news reader.

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