As I read about the layoffs at Myspace — the company today confirmed that it is shedding close to half of the company, or about 500 employees, including virtually the entire international operation — I couldn’t help thinking of the legendary 1986 science-fiction film Highlander, which starred Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert as warriors fighting to become the world’s sole remaining immortal. The tag-line for the movie was “There can be only one,” and that certainly seems to be the case when it comes to social networks. The cuts suggest Myspace will be the next to give up its life so Facebook can reign supreme.
News Corp. has tried hard to make something of the company it acquired for close to $600 million in 2005. It has changed chief executives repeatedly — to the point where it has almost become comical — and it has refocused several times, with the latest incarnation targeting the entertainment market. The latest redesign pitched the network as the place where people can follow their favorite musicians and other celebrities, then not long afterward, the network added the ability to integrate user accounts with Facebook — a final sign of how completely it has surrendered to its former foe.
The layoffs also appear to be a sign that no one is rushing forward to take the company off the hands of its corporate parent. News Corp. has made it clear that it is looking to unload the operation, but so far there have been no reports of interest. While some content portals such as Yahoo might be more attracted to the social network once it cuts its costs by 50 percent, the best News Corp. can probably hope for is a Bebo-style deal, like the one that saw AOL shed its own failed social network for a fraction of what it paid (Criterion later sold it to a group of investors who have apparently brought in Bebo founder Michael Birch to try to resurrect it somehow).
Myspace’s latest CEO, Mike Jones, did his best to put a positive spin on the downsizing, saying the company has seen 3 million new user profiles created in the past few months, and that traffic — particularly mobile traffic — has increased. But the reality is, the social network has been in decline for years now, and there are no signs that it can recover any of that lost ground. In the history of modern technology companies, there are very few that can claim they laid off half of their staff and still went on to become successful. The best-case scenario for News Corp. is that it either manages to sell the company to someone, or runs it on a shoestring for a while, then quietly shuts it down.
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