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With MySpace Changes, a Social Networking Era Ends

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Murdochs & MySpacers Tom Anderson & Chris DeWolfe in Happier Days. (Photo via Flickr courtesy of Oxfam America)

The legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is rumored to have said about a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” That is precisely how I feel about MySpace, which apparently has a lot of visitors, especially in the U.S., where it is marginally ahead of Facebook, but no one I know actually uses it.

Things are only going to get tougher — Google’s (s goog) deal with News Corp (s nws) is going to end soon, and with it a steady spigot of cash will be turned off for a service that is struggling to grow revenues. Like an ’80s rock band, MySpace’s time has come and gone. And nothing reflects that more than the exits of MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe and his long-time cohort, President Tom Anderson. DeWolfe ran the company from 2003, helped sell it to News Corp for $580 million in 2005 and later helped negotiate a $900 million advertising deal with Google. Since then, MySpace has lost its buzz to Facebook (which is in turn losing that buzz to Twitter). It attempted to become an app platform, but that hasn’t worked out as well. Being a media entrepreneur, I have religiously studied Rupert Murdoch’s career. At the first sign of diminishing returns, Murdoch puts a media entity up for sale, and tries to swap his tin mine for one producing gold. He tried to do that when he attempted to pawn off MySpace to Yahoo (s yhoo).

The clock has been ticking on MySpace and its executives. Earlier this year, COO Amit Kapur and two other long-time MySpace employees left the company because they couldn’t get the contracts they wanted. Their exit was spun by News Corp. After reading various accounts of DeWolfe’s exit, you can see they left Chris out to dry — something I find particularly distasteful.

Regardless of his exit, there is a strategy in place that could turn MySpace into a decent enough money maker: MySpace Music. By looking to social network’s musical roots, MySpace executives realized that they could build the MTV of the broadband generation. Combining text, audio, video, and social abilities with its audience, MySpace can thrive as a niche yet lucrative musical destination. A lot has to go right for that to happen, though. I have outlined a long list of reservations about MySpace Music.

Back in November 2008, Kevin Kelleher noted, “Social networks spent too much time trying to build audiences without building a solid business model.” With a recession raging and the advertising market in a slump, the social networks have to figure out business models — fast. For MySpace it could mean capturing music industry dollars. MySpace wouldn’t be the first social network looking for niche riches. Hi5, a San Francisco-based social network that’s popular outside of the U.S., recently cut half of its workforce and is said to be pivoting into becoming a social gaming destination. Others are going to soon follow. Folks, what we are seeing is an end of general purpose, broad social networking.

Finally, after nearly two years of us saying so, social is now simply part of the web fabric. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recognized that and since then has been pushing hard on Facebook Connect, which is a simple authentication method that also allows granular social interactions to be embedded in non-Facebook services. With over 200 million Facebookers, Mark has somewhat of a future.

DeWolfe should take this unceremonious exit as a blessing in disguise. Or as Yogi would say, “It gets late early around here…”

29 Responses to “With MySpace Changes, a Social Networking Era Ends”

  1. “Folks, what we are seeing is an end of general purpose, broad social networking.” I could not resist raising my hand in agreement. In retrospect, this was expected. The herd mentality of people across the world means every successful model has about 9 million clones, thus reducing the chances of any one to be in a leadership position.

    Good or bad, this is the way businesses are.

    Eventually each business has to find more value additions and in finding so they finf themselves becoming a niche entity. Frankly I feel it is good for them as well as its customers.

    Manish Pahuja

  2. I don’t see anywhere the arguments that suggest general purpose social networks will not survive. Why so? If general purpose social networks provide a solid and real value, I don’t see why they can’t exist. I do think there’s a need for general social network: just to keep in touch with your friends.

  3. I can’t see how MySpace evolving into a LastFM/Imeem type website would help revenues.

    All is not lost. Clean up the place with a beta transition and overhaul, advertise the crap out of MySpace with the emphasis that it’s where your friends and your favorite bands are, ignite the developer network, and work towards some type of identity network that’s interoperable with Google, Yahoo, and even FB Connect. There’s no reason why MySpace can’t continue to share the social network space with FB with MySpace capturing the pre-teens + teens + music/entertainment space and FB holding onto the college and up + professionals space.

  4. Krishna Baidya

    Social networks in general found the going tough once the initial buzz fizzles down and really points finger on the business model (more specifically monetizing model). And I guess thaz the biggest question for today’s social networking sites ….struggling to remain relevant and ticking the cash register before another fad comes and sweep them away. And that is when they need to create that niche through either music, video, or gaming or some other innovative offerings to bring back the diners at the restaurant.

  5. thetruthlv702

    Someone should create the Short Attention Span Social Networking Site. The site would constantly change, with all the apps, tweets, and bruhaha’s the Internets offering. Realistically, it seems like everyone’s hitting the end of the road regarding the Internet. It’s been awhile since something’s really impressed Me.

  6. ajolie1

    I have to agree with your assessment of MySpace. The experience is just so bad because the UI is so bad. And I suspect the underlying architecture is even worse than bad.

    At the same time, because it seems more like a site to vent and hound, not to actually accomplish something. Facebook is getting used for some serious work – like spreading democracy ideals, not just in the US in really closed societies.

    In short, MySpace was a fad, just like the music it pushes. Without any serious utility and a sound platform, it was bound to decline. It fit Rupert’s cheesy media, but cheese only goes so far. Time to chuck the cheese.

  7. I for one am looking forward to the post-social web. I want to go to where (sorry 30rock) my social connections, data, media, and communications are not hostage to the next cool webtrap. Social is what we all are – not courtesy Facebook or Hi5 or MySpace, rather its a realization of all that the web always promised.

  8. OM- Whay dont you call Richard Greenfield @ Pali – and ask him what he thinks now. :-)
    “MySpace is one of their BEST-performing assets right now…MySpace is doing great.”
    “MySpace remains the industry powerhouse with a huge advertising opportunity in front of it,” wrote Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Research, in a note to his clients this morning. He went on to predict: “The most valuable advertising real estate across MySpace should become targeted over the course of the next 6-12 months –- meaningfully increasing the advertising opportunity.”

    From a money making perspective, MySpace Music wont make it Brother OM – at least not enough to make hold up Rupert’s Dream…. I have seen this script many times over – let’s just leave it at that for now.

  9. Nice post Om very solid analysis on the what’s happening. I concur with you on MySpace. Time for a reboot and picking an area to build a real business on is the right move. As you know I’ve been playing with and some other social stuff. What MySpace could do is really take the lead in providing relevant user centric products – i agree music is a no brainer to start with.. i would integrate as a default search due to the killer visual rendering tech they built.. nothing would be cooler than browsing profile pages in a visual way like searchme does it.

    Other than that I say they need to get the business rolling in terms of providing a better service for users that ties in revenue immediately.

  10. I believe social networks will continue to rise. They will continue to make changes and updates to their sites to keep up with the rising social network sites. The social media rampage is a big boost for social networks, giving the insight of interactivity abilities within social networks. At Interactivity that promotes successful pursuit of life goals. Social media concept is here to stay, and I feel will even grow larger.

  11. I don’t think I’ve met one Myspace detractor who didn’t modify their disdain with a comment on its value as a band portal. I think it could be the next :D

  12. In media time and again the “specific always drive out the general.” Here we see it in social networking. I have contended that there are truly riches in niches. I am a fan of social media and I am pulling for MySpace to make this happen. This wont be the easiest path as they have lived off the fat of the Google deal for some time. They need to move quickly…while not turning away their base. Not easy to do. I am hoping MySpace can pull it off.

    • Jeff

      You are right. I think the Google deal may have brought them the money but delayed their push into finding a sustainable business model. Let’s see if they can make the transition back to being a music only service happen.

  13. MrViklund

    “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded”

    Will happen to Facebook too. And I refuse to use any of these lame Social-Networks.
    Facebook will be dead in 5 years, less if we are lucky.

  14. Angus Dei

    As a musician with 2,500+ Friends on MySpace, I’m happy that Facebook and Twitter are taking so much of the mundane stuff off of MySpace. Personally, I have no interest in Facebook or Twitter because they don’t have musician pages, so if all the non music fans go there, fine by me. Making MySpace even more music/media oriented sounds great.

    • Count me as one of those who doesn’t understand. How can Twitter supplant the social identity replication serviced by a social network?

      Twitter is a content publishing service that, due to the liberty of its usage, has been applied by early adopters as a method of communication, like e-mail. A social identity is much more encompassing than that.