Commentary

Can MySpace Ever Be Our Space Again?

The last time MySpace got this many headlines was probably when Facebook was still limited to people with .edu email addresses, but for the last month, the news has been flying fast and furious.

March 27-- Former AOL chief Jon Miller heads to News Corp. in the new position of chief digital officer. His primary mission? To fix MySpace.

April 23 -- Miller hires former Facebook COO Owen Van Natta as the new CEO of MySpace, as founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson leave the company.

April 28 -- Van Natta hires former AOL exec Michael Jones as chief operating officer, replacing Amit Kapur, who left in March, and Jason Hirschhorn as chief product officer. Hirschhorn is best known for having been chief digital officer at MTV Networks.

So, in just about a month, there are four new executives atop MySpace. The question is, what do they do now? I've stewed all day yesterday to find an answer to that question, and I don't have one. I do, however, want to talk about the problem.

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It's always astonished me how quickly online brands can lose their mojo, but MySpace fascinates me the most. I've said it before, but I'll say it again -- in the 15 months that I've been writing this column, almost no one has friended me on MySpace, while my list of Facebook friends, once around 55, has ballooned to almost 340, starting with the readers of this column, and expanding over time to include colleagues from my time in the more traditional side of the ad biz, and college and high school friends. At this point, it really wouldn't matter that much to me if Facebook embraced more in-your-face ads, as long as my buds were all still there. (Whether we would all eventually decamp for something else eventually is a topic for another column.)

With each passing day, the glue that Facebook is building gets stronger, making MySpace's problem not just how to make more money but to get more glue -- glue that, as it is on Facebook, transcends the demographics it's known for and gets distributed amongst more demos. To use a phrase from Web 1.0, it needs to become more sticky.

Maybe that glue is named data portability, which MySpace can embrace more than it already has. I'd offer that it means more to the social networking also-rans than it does for those who are currently ruling the growth and the buzz. But that's not the whole answer. What would you do to get MySpace back its mojo? The Social Media Insider is stumped.  

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15 comments about "Can MySpace Ever Be Our Space Again?".
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  1. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo, April 29, 2009 at 2:09 p.m.

    They need some serious identity/image work.

    I was at an eMarketing summit a week ago and MySpace seemed to be the butt of many presenters jokes.
    It was like "only the cool-kids are on Twitter and Facebook", and the nobody-crowd are MySpacers.

    I am not on MySpace because I get the impression that it is a wilder version of Facebook. And I am a middle-aged father of five who doesn't want to live on the wild side.

    This image may not even be accurate, but the new MySpace management will need to clean up the perceptions that I and others are receiving.

  2. Kim Williamson, April 29, 2009 at 2:23 p.m.

    The difference is design.

  3. Michael Kogon from Definition 6, April 29, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    I think the issue of branding is very central to what MySpace needs to do. Not in the sense of going niche (although that is an interesting idea) but to make sure that they stake a claim as to what they want to be or to what consumers see them as. Quick research would make this an easy task. But I think to fix MySpace, they need to work on it, its design is horrible relative to consumer experiences on iPhone, Facebook, Wii, etc. Until they become "sleek" again, it will be hard to gain back user popularity. The other thing, they should do is to add more organization and applications, it is great that it is open, but time and time again, consumers want some guidelines and tools. Facebook and iPhone are winning that war against everyone, but MySpace could actually mount a comeback if it; well, functioned more like Facebook!

  4. Resa Hoeller, April 29, 2009 at 2:59 p.m.

    What would I do to get MySpace back its mojo? I would recommend that they step back and decide who they are, who their audience is, and how that audience wants to connect with each other (both inside and outside the MySpace network). I think focusing on a niche will be key in their success. You can’t be a network for everyone.

  5. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, April 29, 2009 at 3:01 p.m.

    I have seen my friends migrate to Facebook. But I have had way more friend requests from Myspace. The reason is Myspace works great for connecting socially (the party crowd) and for art & music. Facebook is much more like Disney and meant for clean games, connecting with ancient classmates, mafia wars, and online twittering. People lay out their true colors on Myspace. On Facebook people act lmuch more conservative.

    Both will have competitors that upstart and over take them down the road. No one is stuck in any network and you can move on anytime. Remember that hot new site Friendster that started all this?

    The difference between Facebook and Myspace is money. Myspace has a way of people selling directly through their website such as music. Ad serving is never going to be the huge dollar generator the sites hope for. A brand will get much more value from word of mouth and brand ambassadors on these sites than for paid search.

  6. Linda Lopez from Independent, April 29, 2009 at 3:01 p.m.

    I visited my MySpace page recently after having abandoned it for nearly five months (and for another five prior to that). It was a maintenance visit, motivated more by guilt than desire: I knew there were probably broken links and pulled music videos that needed to be fixed and replaced.

    Although I haven't been active on the site for some time, I have a soft spot for it. It was my first all-out social media page and I poured a lot of me into it. It's hard to let go. So there it sits, occasionally updated, but not nurtured and pruned like it once was, or like my Facebook and Twitter pages are now.

    As I tidied up, I asked myself the same question you did, what's wrong with MySpace?

    Here's what I think:

    1. It's been typecast as lowbrow. The general perception is that, with the exception of people in the music and comedy biz, for whom MS still provides a valuable service, it is mostly populated by the Web 1.0 crowd.

    2. Viruses and scams. I suspect the average MS user is not that technically sophisticated, so they get easily taken in by malicious schemes -- and there are lots of them -- which makes it a pain for everyone else on the service. The net effect is that MS doesn't feel safe.

    3. Many of the member pages are so bloated and badly designed, they're slow to load and painful to see. As a result, not a lot of page cruising goes on. Perhaps MS needs to rein in the creative options for the greater good. It pains me to say this because the ability to be creative on the page is my favorite thing about MS (and one of my least favorite about FB).

    4. Looking for people to meet is too arduous. I tried it once or twice when I first joined back in 2006 and finally gave up. Most of the MS friends I have are people I already knew, and people who found me and whom I liked enough to add.

    5. The ads are hideous and give the pages a sleazy feel. I would sometimes reload my page so I didn't have to look at some of them. Not good for the MS brand or the MS coffers.

    6. Too many badly vetted third party developers. Many of the add-ons and services are aesthetically wanting and, worse, come with adware and malware (see #2).

    Having said all that, I think MS still has promise. I considered for a while dismantling my page, but on my last visit decided I would keep it and wait out the inevitable acquisition and makeover. Maybe that time has come.

  7. Carolyn Micheli from E.W. Scripps, April 29, 2009 at 3:09 p.m.

    MySpace should focus on the teens again.

    Surely the teens/college kids don't want to be on Facebook when their parents, aunts, uncles, etc., and other boomers are trying to friend them. But right now they have no other option.

    Bring back the edginess (the music suggestion above might be one way to do that), work on the image, and convince the teens it's THEIR Space again.

    The adults will follow (eventually) because they have to.

  8. Mitchel Ahern from One to One Interactive, April 29, 2009 at 3:20 p.m.

    Of course the "glue" on Facebook has gotten older and weaker as well, as evidenced by their aping of Twitter. The movement seems to be away from walled platforms and towards protocols to build what you want. The comment storms concerning Facebook's recent redesigns demonstrate that you can't please all the people all the time, and why do you want to even try?

    Oh, and MySpace? Please, why not try to fix Friendster. And if you *really* want to deliver the kiss of death bring in a bunch of semi-relevant expert executives to burn off any excess mojo.

  9. Ian Sambor from djla Advertising, April 29, 2009 at 5:17 p.m.

    MySpace feels like an old yellow school bus with flashy chrome rims and TVs in the headrests. The site was the first to mainstream so many crucial elements to the social networking world (picture/video posting, music, specific profile privacy settings, etc). The core to the success of MySpace was the promotion of free expression. The core to the failure of MySpace is the lack of consistency in the structure for that free expression to live with a misdirected focus away from its strengths.

    We all know that the less educated generally follow the more educated when it comes to internet trends like social networking, which means that functionality, organization and 'cleanliness' must become the top priorities for MySpace. That said, the only way it can be fixed is to clean up the content and the approved content providers and utilize its niche in music as the ship's anchor. I never use my MySpace anymore, but prior to attending SXSW I was on there everyday listening to bands, because it's still the medium that the artists point you to. They need to own that music avenue and they must continue to upgrade/improve it. Their goal needs to be to have the site loading so fast that users and content providers consistently rely on it over YouTube or their own site as a free host site for music, film, comedy, etc.

    Lastly, if I am Jon Miller, I would be perfecting and protecting the valuables of social networking by creating a photo sharing/downloading platform for people to download the actual photo files being shared with security restrictions (user must be 'tagged' in photo by uploader for downloading privileges). I would also master the 'calendar' game by allowing users to edit/upload events and personal calendars from the main desktop calendar programs. Additionally, I would find a way to either partner with the AIM program through his contacts at AOL for seamless integration or I would create a similar program that would fit in a consistent location in the user's 'Home' where you could select each active conversation through tabs or a drop-down menu. There should be a way for multiple users to log-on for a group 'chat' to discuss timely subjects (i.e. plans for the night).

    With as much of a thrashing as MySpace has taken on the streets over the past year, there is still something to be said for its stamina as the site's last/strongest leg, Music, continues to keep it relevant for now.

  10. Roy Moskowitz from Reciprocal Results, April 29, 2009 at 5:37 p.m.

    I've long abandoned MySpace for Facebook, despite liking MySpace better, because I actually know a much higher percentage of my Facebook friends than MySpace contacts.

    I joined MySpace in 2006 with trepidation, because I thought most middle age people on it were predators, to monitor the MySpace page of Steve Harrison, a Congressional candidate I was working for. I also monitored our incumbent opponent, Vito Fossella's MySpace page (Fossella is now better known for having what Saturday Night Live called a Trifecta of a secret second family, a love child and a drunk driving arrest) and generated media coverage about Mr. Two Family Values' interesting MySpace friends, such as a woman named "Moist Paula".

    An intern started a Harrison Facebook page towards the end of the 06 campaign, but it wasn't on my radar yet.

    I friended a few people I know on MySpace and then friended many more that I didn't. Sometimes I made the initial contact, other times they did. I usually accepted solicitations if we shared a common interest. I tried friending random people I found that were interested in politics. I have 86 MySpace friends. I know less than a third of them from the non-MySpace world.

    I joined Facebook in 07 with trepidation for the same reasons I initially had about MySpace, to check a link from Harrison's Facebook page to his 06 campaign website. The person who registered his 06 domain (Not me) let it expire and a Hong Kong company bought the web address and made it a porn site.

    After I was on Facebook a couple of months, people I knew started friending me. Then I sent Facebook invitations to most of my address book and my friend list grew geometrically. I further expanded my network by searching for people I went to high school and college with. I currently have over 400 Facebook contacts, almost all of them are people I've met, spoken to on the phone or exchanged email with in the real world. Of those that I know only from Facebook, all but a couple of them have real world or at least social networking relationships with my other Facebook comrades

  11. Chris Abbott from Hardline Media, April 29, 2009 at 7:38 p.m.

    Whats MySpace? :)

  12. Michael Kremin from NeoGen Digital, April 29, 2009 at 8:21 p.m.

    Having been around start-ups and online services for more years than I care to admit, I feel we are watching the natural decline of another Internet destination. The list will just continue to grow. If one were to look at the high flyers in 2000, probably less than 5% are around today or are widely used.

    MySpace management faces a daunting task to reinvent and and attract old and new users. Facebook, with its APIs and clever applications may hold onto its base, but could suffer the same consequences as MySpace when the next greatest website comes along.

  13. David Yon from DY Consulting, April 29, 2009 at 11:26 p.m.

    Paul is definitely onto something with MusicSpace.

    My 2cents to the new executive team-> Stop focusing on the old and dying MySpace platform (and its user base) and start to put 100% of your attention and top talent on transitioning the artists/musicians community and their key followers (arguable the only key asset and competitive advantage MySpace still have over Facebook) onto the more recent (although still clunky) MySpace Music platform. Music is ubiquitous and central enough to their core audience to be worth betting on.

  14. Anthony Nunno from FD kinesis, April 30, 2009 at 12:09 p.m.

    The truth is that News Corp should have cleaned the MySpace house a very long time ago as we all sat back, defected to Facebook and snickered to ourselves as it lost market share each month. I have firsthand knowledge of the truly poor executive decisions that were made by the very people who created the social platform. The word EGO is what first comes to mind and then the words spoiled brats, difficult personalities and close minded quickly follow. I have chosen these words carefully as I think about how many socially inherent ad distribution ideas have been marched into their offices and had fallen on deaf ears or completed ignored (most liked moved to the email trash bin prior to opening an email with the subject line: Million $ Ad Distribution Network via our Widget Platform).

    The leaders of MySpace have allowed the brand to get stale, refused to make changes that appeal to its demographic, closed down its own widget development platform and laid off its entire staff and strangled its sales force with an inefficient ad delivery network, inferior ways to reach the gold mine of data rich user information and totally ignore where it could have benefitted from playing inside the larger FIM playground. FIM owns so many amazing internet properties that if MySpace chose to share its brand and open its platform with these said media properties we would not see its demise today.

    I’m not sure if MySpace can turn it around, look at AOL and its own issues… again Time Warner is trying to unload it. Will Rupert find himself with the AOL equivalent? Does this provide us with insight into the Titans of Media buying businesses that rely on cool cache and a fickle demographic that does not want to be part of the marketing machine? Note to Twitter: Think twice before you sell out!!!

    Anyway, my point is that the damage is done and it might be too late to for MySpace as it seems to me that it is crawling with nothing but scams, viruses, pornographic propositions and Friends of the Friendless (Yes, this reference should show my age).

  15. Will Stewart from SportsWar LLC, May 1, 2009 at 11:45 a.m.

    Catharine: You bring up an interesting issue, and I can only address it from my own personal perspective, that of a 44-year-old male of a socially conservative bent. It's really simple: MySpace member profiles are hideous, vulgar, and overwrought. Facebook profiles are clean, easy to read and navigate, and relatively simple.

    In short, MySpace=trailer park; Facebook=high rise condo. I guess that gets back to the simple branding issue.

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