Looking back over the past month, there’s been a growing voice of dissent against MySpace and, if you are to believe the naysayers, the rather imminent collapse of MySpace. The number of unique visitors, report the WSJ, fell 4% to 47.2 million from 49.2 million in August. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that the length of time users spend on MySpace hit a high of 2 hours and 25 minutes in October last year, but dropped to 2 hours and has plateaud since then.
“I think it’s definitely going down,” says Jackie Birnbaum, a high-school student interviewed in the Washington Post article “a lot of my friends have deleted their MySpaces and are more into Facebook now.” E.J. Kim, another interviewee, says that she spent four hours on her MySpace page to deleting the whole thing, saying she’s grown “tired of it.”
Now, I’ve never been a fan of MySpace. It’s too bloody ugly, too impersonal, and basically one big spam machine. I’ve opened up a MySpace account, but never really saw any benefit to it aside from getting requests of a couple of relatively unknown authors to be my friend. And it didn’t surprise me, and many other people, when Trent Lapinski, writing in Valleywag, said that MySpace was designed by Intermix Media to be one big spam machine, disguised as some altruistic, cool social networking site. So no, Tom is not your friend.
The way you made “friends” is basically one way of connecting you to more marketing spam. Wander around MySpace and you’ll find phony profiles, profiles of inanimate objects like the iPod Nanos are online, book authors tout there books by asking you to add them as friends, bands that want you to check them out. It’s a very impersonal publicity machine there.
And here’s the thing about young kids today: They won’t be taken for fools. Kids these days are brought up in an age of media overload, so they’re media savvy enough to smell spam when it comes. Add to that 1) the fickle behaviour of their target audience who constantly seek the next “cool” thing, 2) the zero cost of ditching the account, and 3) the zero cost of signing up for another, better managed social networking account (one that gives you more control over friends, less spam, cleaner interface, etc.), and what you’ll get is a very real opportunity where MySpace can collapse.
But the way I see it, MySpace has two things going for it that will save its life–sheer inertia, and their online music. For all the negative publicity, MySpace is a juggernaut, and any downslope reaction won’t happen overnight; 125 million people don’t just ditch their profiles within a month, or even six. The slight downward slide of the stats support this. The voice of dissent, though growing, is still a relatively lonely one, and two hours spent on a page is still long compared to many other websites. And their online music component is a tremendous way of discovering music–just ask any music artist there, and they’ll agree with you. But that side of MySpace needs work–there’s such an overwhelming choice of music that people don’t know where to start.
Murdoch is in treacherous waters; to save MySpace, he’s got to do it subtly, without pushing in-your-face ads to users. After all, this is “My Space,” so there is a sense of ownership to the profile pages, and much like owners, they hate to see unwanted solicitors forcing them to hear an ad pitch. But then again, when you’ve spent $580million, you sure want to see larger profits. Welcome to Web 2.0, where loads of money is dished out for a startup that hasn’t figured out a way to turn a tidy profit. It’s an interesting time for Rupert–is he the poster child for new media adaptation, or just someone performing old tricks on a new platform?