For the younger people that will read this article, the question should be “What is MySpace”, but for the sake of the argument, we’ll try to answer here the “Why did MySpace fail” question.
Before Facebook, there was Myspace. Between 2005 and 2008, Myspace was the most prominent social network out there. The social networking site co-founded by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe even became the most-visited website in June 2006, passing Google in visits. It was revolutionary, offering a space for personalized profiles, music and photo sharing, and interaction like never before.
Having built off the success of Friendster, Myspace started as a side-project for that team, which soon became a juggernaut and a forerunner of social media. This growth, however, turned into a kiss of death. Myspace quickly outgrew its capabilities of a social networking site.
But what happened? Some blame the administrative mistakes that plagued Myspace and left it unable and ill-equipped to change alongside the social web it helped create. Soon after, Facebook would arrive and take over.
A history of Myspace
To understand what happened to Myspace, it can help to know a little bit about its history.
Beginning as a spin-off of Friendster, Myspace officially launched in 2004. By 2005 it was reaching around 20 million registered users. It was the top social media network until Facebook took the lead.
After registration, users would be given their profile page. They could customize this page however they wanted, post blogs, stream music, and – crucially – connect with others. Myspace made money by selling ad space on its pages to companies and brands.
Myspace was an early example of a tech startup that was wildly successful. It should have gone on to dominate the social media landscape. But this was not to be. When Facebook launched, it refined the strategy and design that Myspace started and took over the market. Myspace began to grow stagnant, while Facebook exploded to having over 600 million users.
What Did Myspace Fail?
Myspace was a quick success after it was founded in 2003. So much so that News Corp bought it in 2005 for $580 million. Myspace was the king of social media. But only a couple of years later, Facebook would dominate the industry, eventually surpassing Myspace in user numbers in 2008.
Much discussion and debate surround what happened to cause this failure. There are management errors and strategic mistakes that are often cited as reasons for the social network’s downfall. However, all of these issues and smaller details lead back to what is essentially one main mistake by the News Corporation.
News Corp approached its running of Myspace as a corporate entity. It tried to over-plan and “professionally manage” a system that relied on creative thinking and dynamic workflows. This was the big secret of Facebook: that no matter how big it grew, it still maintained a startup mentality. Facebook was designed in White Space, allowing the design to flow where it needed to go, and as the market dictated.
There is a multitude of reasons why Facebook won while Myspace failed. Myspace had a clumsily designed interface that could easily confuse, and many of its apps and features were faulty. Myspace was behind in technology from early on. Its strengths lay in its marketing. Later on, they attempted to fix this with a redesigned interface and allowing third-parties to design software, but it came as too little, too late.
Underestimating the Competition
Very different kinds of people founded Myspace and Facebook.
Myspace was designed and run by marketing people, and their view of what social media could be was very different from those of the people running Facebook. Myspace then made the mistake of ignoring Facebook, thinking it was just another imitator.
However, when it was clear that Facebook was here to stay, Myspace then attempted to copy Facebook’s strategy and design and was already left behind. Later on, it attempted to rebrand as a music platform, but again this came too late.
If a startup is to be successful, it must focus on the customers, rather than obsess over the competition. However, it is still important to be aware of the landscape in which your product exists. Myspace failed at both of these aspects.
Corruption of the Platform
Myspace became a haven for corporate spamming and junk mail. The company had only one option for users when they signed up: to become “friends.” Companies would sign up and imitate human beings, insidiously marketing products and services to people and infiltrating social groups to sell and gain customers.
Myspace was ineffective at policing this, while Facebook was aware of this problem from the beginning and built safeguards into the software to protect from it.
Facebook separates individuals, groups, and pages, allowing businesses to set up pages under their names and act as businesses rather than people.
If a person is seen as promoting a business, they are marked as spam and can potentially be cut off from the platform. This helped keep the focus of Facebook on “friends.”
The Design and The Interface
The interface on Myspace was an issue from the beginning. There were multiple redesigns between 2007 and 2008 in an attempt to fix bugs and make the website less complicated to use. This confused users even further. The switch to becoming more music-focused came in 2010 when it became clear that Facebook could not be matched.
Myspace was heavily focused on giving users the ability to customize their profiles. This, in theory, is a good idea. However, in practice, this was fiddly and required users to know HTML to change anything.
The website’s constant redesigns and shifting focus meant that users were left endlessly confused and could never settle into a rhythm of use. This was a big factor in the migration of users over to the simpler, cleaner Facebook.
Due to the only source of profit being from advertisements, Myspace was aggressive in its placement of ads. Every spare space of the webpage was taken up with ads, leading to a messy looking, overwhelming interface.
Facebook, on the other hand, had a much cleaner, calmer design.
Myspace was not created by tech experts. It was made and run by people in the entertainment industry. This gave them a disadvantage when it came to innovating, compared to a company like Facebook.
At its core, Facebook was started and run by technology experts, who knew how to code their perfect site. This gave them an edge and a dynamism that Myspace could never match.
Myspace was never a real company. It was a part of a larger marketing company. In truth, they wanted Myspace as a way to gather users in one place so they could advertise products to them. They saw the number of hours users spent on Friendster and realized that they could use that as a way to collect potential customers. Compare this to Facebook, where the user experience came first.
The purchase of Myspace by Murdoch’s company was a big factor in the failure of the social networking website. Rupert Murdoch quickly lost interest in the platform, and the corporations’ old fashioned business style was stifling for a company that desperately needed the fresh innovation of a startup mentality.
Poor Public Image
On top of all of these issues, Myspace was plagued with public image problems.
As the user base of Myspace grew, so did the number of people posting nude images of themselves or others. The lack of policing by the social networking website only inflamed the issues. Parents became hostile towards the website and actively prevented their children from using it. This came to a head when in 2006, a Connecticut investigation looked into allegations of child pornography.
This led to many users migrating over to Facebook, which was seen as the safer of the two platforms. Comparisons have been made the white flight, as Myspace came to be thought of as a sort of “digital ghetto.”
Why did MySpace fail? I guess that answers it.
Why Did Myspace Fail? A Story of a Failed Startup
MySpace is a textbook example of the failure of traditional management styles in startup industries.
A startup needs to be nimble. It needs to be able to react quickly and dynamically to changing markets and shifting expectations. It cannot do this when it is being run like a traditional business. This means when a plan is thought through, predictions are made, and then the plan is carried out blindly, without checking the immediate results.
The story of Myspace also shows how fragile an industry social media really is. Websites as dominant as Friendster and Myspace can seem untouchable, but within a few years, are almost forgotten.
Social networks need to focus not just on direct customer interactions, but also on providing tools and a platform for customers to interact with each other. This is the success of Facebook. This was also the failure of Myspace.
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