With MySpace Changes, a Social Networking Era Ends

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 deal with News Corp 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.

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…”

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