Blog Post

Why MySpace Is Really GeoCities 2.0

myspace-logo1It was unkind irony that just as MySpace was reshuffling its leadership with the hope of reviving its fortunes, Yahoo (s yhoo) quietly announced the end of GeoCities. It was as if the hand of fate overseeing Internet startups was offering MySpace an uncomfortable peek into its own future.

Like GeoCities, MySpace won quick success by making it easy for people to build a customized online presence. Like GeoCities, MySpace sold out to a bigger media company (s nws) that ended up a caretaker for its long years of decay. And now MySpace is slowly becoming, like GeoCities, an abandoned amusement park on the web.

Is fixing MySpace, as Om said recently, a “mission impossible“? Or can Owen Van Natta keep it from becoming GeoCities 2.0? The latter seems unlikely, since it would require undoing fateful decisions that MySpace made several years ago, decisions that made good sense at the time but have since been draining vitality from the company.

Back in early 2005, MySpace was thriving while Friendster was struggling. MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson had watched Friendster users create profiles, contact friends and then discover there was little else to do there. So they took a different route, filling MySpace with features — blogs, mp3 feeds, videos — and letting people go wild with them.

Such an approach was crucial to MySpace’s success, but it also created a longer-term problem in that site is now littered with garish profiles. By comparison, tech companies with longer runs of success — among them Google (s goog), Amazon (s amzn) and Apple (s aapl) — have always insisted on simplicity and elegance. Facebook seems to understand this better than MySpace.

A bigger misstep was selling out to News Corp. Again, the deal made good sense at the time: MySpace’s parent, Intermix, had seen its stock price collapse because of an investigation by Eliot Spitzer’s office. News Corp., meanwhile, needed a fast way to gain a big presence in online media — and access to younger consumers who were shunning television and print.

Under News Corp., MySpace changed from a company that sought out new ideas from its users to one that was deaf to their interests, preferring to corral them into seeing as many ads as possible. Many early users saw MySpace as a community built around music. Rather than cultivating such a focus, MySpace chose to be social-networking portal — all things to all people. But there is really only room for one such portal at a time, and right now it’s Facebook.

MySpace has squandered whatever early potential it had as a countercultural force. Four years ago, many bands that used the site to connect with and find fans saw MySpace as playing the role that Rolling Stone magazine did in the 1970s: an alternative to the big record labels that could launch unknown talent to fame. MySpace did explore this potential with its MySpace Records label, but it was a halfhearted attempt. It chose instead to work in harmony with record labels, missing a chance to disrupt an industry that badly needed change.

Fixing MySpace would mean reversing many decisions that time has shown to be ill-advised, returning to a spirit of risk and opportunity that has been missing for years. Much easier and safer is maintaining the status quo and trying to hang onto the users who, for whatever reason, are still updating their profiles. But that isn’t innovation, it’s hospice care.

38 Responses to “Why MySpace Is Really GeoCities 2.0”

  1. Until NewsCorp came into the picture, MySpace never sought out new ideas from its users. Never. There was no means of feedback. They ignored you. Perhaps in their heyday around 2006-2007, they were overwhelmed with the explosive rowth, however it was reported that prior to the recent management shuffling, they had a 1000 employees? What were all these employees actually doing? Personally, I really don’t know myself what they could have done to change the model to keep it sucessful, however I would think at least 1 of those thousand people in that organization just might have had an idea. It’s kind of like GM- it became a bloated image of it’s once-self, that never could adapt to the future and never cared much to keep in touch with the market that created it to begin with.

    I agree with you that they offered something different that no one was doing or was missing- greater interactivity along with self expression. They never grew beyond this, and after blowing a half a billion dollars on this folly, Newscorp never found a successful buisness model with it (they had hoped to get users to interact more with advertising- ha!). The sleazy ads didn’t help much with that either- everytime I logged into MySpace I felt like I was walking through the porn district. Now add the tacky and tasteless self expression of many of the users profiles to that; It just has the look and feel of a bad neighborhood.

    It got worse too, MySpace’s attempt at allowing the tacky game apps and crap like “People as pets” further emphasize that MySpace isn’t a place for social networking, it’s a popularity contest that places quantity over quality, and hero worship and self importance over socializing. Despite that, in the five years I have been on MySpace, I do find the experience amusing- despite the fact that many say that they are concerned about their privacy and security, they freely give it away- never will you find a place where a complete stranger will self profess the most intimate of details without even as much as asking- things I bet their neighbors, close friends and family don’t even know.

    As you mentioned, the Newscorp/MySpace rise and downfall mirrors the Yahoo/Geocities rise and downfall. Based on the Geocities model, that currently leaves them with a 7 year survival. I did notice that they finally changed that horrible 1990’s layout and now MySpace has open email, which gives them the ability to be the 4th largest email provider in the US. However do to the well know lack of security of the site (however I can’t entirely cite fault with them, as the users easily fall for the simplest of attempts by hackers to get passwords), and the reputation that MySpace has gained in the media, I doubt if MYSpace Mail, just like MySpace itself, will ever be looked at as a “serious” service. Google has nothing to worry about here.

  2. I feel a few major social networks will capture a niche market gradually. Facebook will be preferred for casual interactions between business-friends, Linkedin for strict business interactions, Orket for the new converts, Myspace for music and performing arts and Twitter for….twittering! What else…

    Manish Pahuja

  3. jenny

    My Father has had websites on Geocities for years… and now he is totally bummed. I did some searching and found and then contacted them about what they were doing… they totally transfered my dads stuff over to a really affordable paid hosting service for him.

    Just thought I would share the link.

  4. Om,

    Personally, I think that while gravity is pointing in the wrong direction for MySpace today, it’s hardly a case of the final chapter having been written.

    A lot of this comes down to basics, like MySpace updating their segmentation thinking, and tilting the product accordingly.

    For example, going forward is MySpace the portal where “anything” goes, or minimally the richer, more personalized version of Me? Are there any unfair advantages to the affiliation with News Corporation (e.g., deeper access to content, better integration of that content)? Are there sexier viral distribution tools that MySpace can bake into the platform? Mike Jones founded Userplane so he certainly understands the power of seeding/distributing functional widgets to create scale/reach. Finally, how do they secure developer mindshare so more apps are built on their platform (and success of same is better marketed).

    As is so often the case with these things, MySpace is now being defined by what it’s NOT (read: Facebook or Twitter). Rather, than get FB-envy, they need to figure out their unique sandbox and iterate from there. Hopefully, they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.



  5. have you spoken to any teenagers about this lately? myspace is still working for them. But as soon as customizable and overly busy themes became the norm everyone just ran away.

    facebook seems to give individuals the ability to connect without having to leave their own page. I.e. i can connect without having to look at your annoying profile page with all your ‘flare’, mafia war updates and quiz results.

    Worth noting that there is a myspace deathwatch group on facebook… good times.

  6. The core idea & the core features of MySpace I think still offers an additional value to users that Facebook does not.
    I still do like the idea of a custom profile design, but, they should probably develop some way to make it less flexible so that things don’t end up breaking when users start to go hog wild on animated gifs, videos, photos of their favorite celebs.

    A mash-up between the flexibility of MySpace and the structure of Facebook would be nice.

  7. Both Facebook and MySpace have annoying shortcomings which bear their seeds of destruction. Facebook seems to have more development. But it’s so extremely poor with contact management! That truly amazes me, esp considering that it’s a social network.

  8. Luciel

    Why Journalism Is Really GeoCities 2.0
    When you write an article, you have to say something that people listen to. Writing that myspace is still used by many individuals and still has many new applications every week would be a boring article. But, writing that something is doomed, although there is little evidence of this, is a much more exciting, though less accurate statement. Lets all cry wolf.

    If there is too much scope for creativity you shall be hit with everyones stupid ideas
    If there is no scope for creativity you shall never see them.

  9. Kevin, you said “But there is really only room for one such portal at a time, and right now it’s Facebook.”

    I don’t agree. There is increasing fragmentation on the web, and for good reason — dude, it’s not mass-media. I still use GeoCities (started in 1996), and yet I have a Myspace account and a Facebook account. I learned html on GeoCities from volunteer community leaders, and I discovered creative Indie musicians and filmmakers on Myspace.

    Facebook and Twitter actually seem like fads to me, because even though the UI is simple and elegant (as you say) I still prefer substantive content. Yes, even if the UI is less consistent and some people let their imagination run wild. Mind you, I’ve never been inclined to press or starch my underpants either. Get my drift?

  10. shortlikemeghan

    I am not interested in Facebook. I use MySpace because all my close friends stayed on MySpace. I find my inability to customize Facebook irritating. Yeah, it’s annoying when you stumble across someone’s MySpace page and it takes 80 years to load due to the amount of pictures, videos, and glittery text they’ve decorated their page with, but Facebook could at least let you pick from assorted themes or colors.

    Plus I feel so restricted on Facebook. MySpace feels very open, like a party where everyone can talk to anyone. Sure, that might be dangerous. But I mean there are people at huge parties that get date rape drugs in their drink, and then there are people who decide to stay sober so they can drive their friends home. It’s about choices and responsibility. MySpace gives people the opportunity to make choices, good or bad, whereas I feel completely controlled by Facebook.

    I have about three Facebooks and I forgot the password to each of them. This is how that happened; a friend persuaded me to sign up, I went through with it, and lost interest after about a half hour. That has happened three times and I doubt it’s going to change.

  11. Myspace is, y’know, that place with the retarded flash heavy personal pages with ridiculous themes where the teenagers hang out.

    That’s the site’s biggest problem, if you ask me. It’s reputation. The rest of the social portals grew up along with their audience and customers. Myspace did not. Clearing its image, even if it does clean up the website, won’t be an easy task at all. It can be done, but you gotta wonder if it’ll pay off. Everyone and their mom is on Facebook now. Will they migrate back to Myspace? Probably not. Where does it find its new client base?

  12. Donald Townsend

    Over here in Germany myspace is the website to build a community if you are a band or musician. Many small independent bands have abandoned their old websites in favour of a myspace profile. It’s the place to be, the place to showcase your music, to get gigs, to keep your fans up to date and much much more. Without myspace bands are nearly invisible. I don’t know of any band that uses facebook to that means. Perhaps it’s because facebook still isn’t very popular in Germany. For individuals myspace is only interesting with regard to bands and music. They sign up because they want to be friends of their favourite bands. Their own profile page is less important and only close friends will go there to leave comments.
    Myspace still is a platform with lots of problems but most people I have asked think it has become better over time, now is better to use and offers more value than before.

  13. realist

    Everything News Corp touches becomes a one-size-fits-all platform for advertising. It’s not like anyone at the top actually uses MySpace, you know? There’s no innovation at the company. What the company does, instead, is buy someone else’s successful innovation – and then drop the ball. How often have they shown that they don’t get the point of the innovation and, rather than build on it, stifle it? Music and My Space? It’s almost like everything they do amounts to a second-rate sequel.

  14. Tony R

    You’ve definitely overstated your case here Kevin. MySpace has 130 million uniques a month. That places it as the 4th or 5th largest sites in the world. Hardly a GeoCities. (GeoCities has around 10 million uniques, and that’s being propped up by Yahoo & Search engine traffic.) People still actually type in ‘’ beacause they want to use it, and that’s something that tech bloggers and journalists don’t get. Attention journalists: just becuase you and your circle of friends don’t use something doesn’t mean other people don’t. I find Facebook boring. Is that such a shock? I like your take on the need for a disruptive counter cultural force within MySpace. That’s original thinking, but your belief that it’s already dead just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the facts. For the commenters above, MySpace is not built on bad technology (its in .NET and only non-core pages are in CF btw), it’s just needs some polish on the front end. Any graphic designer can fix that. If any of you actually still use MySpace (and it doesn’t sound like you do), you’d see that they’ve been gradually creating every feature one would expect and want from the service. I’m still a believer. And more importantly a user. Just one of 130 million (big point)!

  15. Both FB and MS have annoying shortcomings which bear their seeds of destruction. FB seems to have more development. But it’s so extremely poor with contact management! That truly amazes me, esp considering that it’s a social network.

  16. I think there’s a lot of the story missing this post. Sure there are parallels between Myspace and GeoCities, but the comparison is by no means complete. If you were to say that, from a business perspective, there are parallels because of the purchase of each by larger corporations then I would agree. Beyond that, I’m not so sure.

    First of all, it could be argued that the sale of GeoCities to Yahoo and the sale of Myspace to News Corp was the best thing that could have happened to either. Remember they both sold for extremely large amounts of money – money that wasn’t seen by the likes of Tripod, Angelfire, or Friendster and hasn’t really been see by Facebook yet – a multi-billion dollar valuation is not money in the bank, especially with a burn rate like theirs. Yahoo always struggled with what to do with GeoCities after the purchase, and basically it never fit into their plans very well. On the other hand, Myspace has actually influenced News Corp’s strategy in a lot of ways. News Corp may actually be one of the only major media companies to do something meaningful on the “social” Web.

    Second, as far as I know, Myspace is still the most profitable social network. Facebook for all it’s glory, is in the red by quite a bit and still trying to figure out a reasonable monetization strategy. Just a little googling will reveal that many advertisers have been really struggling to find success when trying to advertise with Facebook. Hopefully this changes in the near future, but either way Myspace figured out how to make some money.

    Third, GeoCities and Myspace both were/are about self identification. They empowered non-developers and non-designers by giving them a place to express their identities on the Web – Myspace took this to the next level by recognizing that bands sucked at promoting themselves online and they needed a place as well. Facebook, Twitter, and similar have largely not tried to do that. Facebook’s strength is in it’s amazing communication tools, with member profiles playing second fiddle to the news feeds especially in regards to the recent design changes. Twitter’s strength is in their simple micro-blog platform and API. Myspace’s strength is in the very fact that people can create pages that offend every design sensibility if they want to. That said, the evolution of self identification on the Web would point to the blog platforms not to social networks like FB. If you had taken your comparison from GeoCities to Myspace, then to WordPress or even, I might have gone along for the ride. If you’re right and Myspace does go the way of the dodo, I foresee something else stepping up as a place for people without dev and design skills to express themselves through design on the Web.

    • >I foresee something else stepping up as a place for people without dev and design skills to express themselves through design on the Web.

      This is a great point – and sums up the opportunity better than I did above. What you called self-identification (15 years ago that would have been a redundant term) has always been a driving principle of success for community sites. It may be Facebook or Twitter for the moment, but these moments tend to pass rather quickly.

      That said, I’m not sure I agree we disagree so much. MySpace did help News Corp at first, but NWS is now struggling just as Yahoo struggled. Murdoch just had a steeper learning curve than Yahoo did with GeoCities. MySpace is most profitable right now, sure, but not only is that damning with faint praise, it overlooks Google’s role in the profits.

  17. Angus Dei

    What utter garbage. MySpace Music is the one reason MySpace is superior to Facebook and Twitter, which offer nothing to musicians. Let all the gabby knot-heads go to Facebook and Twitter. That’s where vacuous chat belongs. Like I care about aunt Ethel’s quilting bee or Buffy’s cheerleading tryouts. That leaves MySpace a better place for musicians and music fans. The best thing about Facebook and Twitter is that they take the bottom dwellers off of MySpace. May they live forever.

    • MySpace superiority to Facebook and Twitter is a specious argument. While I concede that MySpace MAY have a slight edge over the others for indie musicians, and I also could give a rat’s ass about Aunt Ethel’s quilting bee, I am sure Facebook will “diversify” to allow more musician-friendly functionality. (I already know of many musicians who are on BOTH AND tweet about their epiphanies in public rest rooms.)
      “The best thing about Facebook and Twitter is that they take the bottom dwellers off of MySpace. May they live forever.” You’re being sarcastic, right? Anyone over the age of say, 20, knows the reverse is true. MySpace will always be known as a wasteland where kiddies and self-proclaimed web designers subject the world to their design atrocities. And “vacuous chat”? All three are vacuous. But MySpace has the distinction of being slightly moreso due to the well know user base/demographic. (“Check out my bitchin’ MySpace page, yo! It’s like totally sick, for realz!”)
      By the way, what on earth is a gabby knot-head?

    • Owen? That you buddy?

      Honestly I’ll take the clean, organized, and integrated features of Facebook over the glittery discombobulated mess that myspace has managed to let themselves fall into.

  18. david

    Myspace’s problem for me was when they became hostile to 3rd party embeds like YouTube, even though they are back (YouTube embeds) it feels like they are doing so begrudgingly.

    On the other hand Facebook has a robust sharing architecture that they seem to be investing in. I feel I can integrate all my Web activity within Facebook. I can also integrate content with 3rd part ads servers. My feeling is that this would be anathema to Myspace.

    For musicians, the Myspace only allowed a minimal number of songs in the player, this never changed, also there was no way to link to a particular song, unlike imeem and ultimately YouTube. Very hard to tell someone to check out a song in an e-mail without a direct link, plus the fact the song might have to be removed do to the song count limit.

    When other sites began to offer ad revenue share, Myspace didn’t budge. Their deal with Snocap was totally ineffective. They should have embraced a technology strategy with iTunes. Instead they wanted to compete with iTunes.

    Myspace started off with high potential. Then got greedy and controlling.

    They have a lot of work to do

  19. and i want to add… hire people that actually use the service they are engineering. i know it will be tough – ColdFusion programmers aren’t the best engineers. i don’t think they were meant to be. start with hiring (and finding) a ColdFusion developer that uses and maybe is already working on a third party app for Myspace. someone who understands the framework of what is built over in LA. shows that Myspace still has over 50 million strong. and that starting point is definitely a good one. ok i am done.

  20. “But that isn’t innovation, it’s hospice care.” thumbs up! they update their profiles because many of them don’t quite get it yet. Facebook has an element of interaction that Myspace does not. What Owen Van Natta should do is change up the engineering staff at Myspace. i am constantly frustrated at the way their app operates. maybe even poach some people from Facebook. fat chance on that because they are on a different framework. clean out the engineering team and hire a mind that can innovate. start with that, re-aim the focus to disrupt the music industry like you mentioned above and game on. keep in mind that GeoCities was around for over ten years. so Myspace’s expiration has time before the fallout. guess we will see what will happen. maybe Owen Van Natta will get some insight by stumbling across your blog.

    – Jason Nadaf