Second Generation Discovery Sites

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by: David Jennings

There’s an interesting set of issues raised by sites like Best MySpace Band, which add second-generation features to discovery sites like MySpace, and so on.

As the name hints, Best MySpace Band is a site dedicated to sifting through all the bands on MySpace and collating votes for them on a Wisdom of Crowds basis, to find which is ‘best’. I haven’t got involved in voting, but it appears to work similarly to digg, and, appropriately enough, that’s where I found it.

Over on digg, someone has commented "how long until the takedown notice from myspace?", and someone else has disagreed in response, mentioning that it increases MySpace’s traffic and profile and provides a feature that MySpace lacks. So, a case of a benign parasite, then? But what happens if it becomes very successful in its own right — what would MySpace do then? Surely they’d add this feature themselves, and, with their vastly superior muscle, they’d blow Best MySpace Band out of the water in a matter in a matter of days.

Yesterday Paul Lamere posted an analysis of Sleevenotez, a service that you could say was parasitic on in a similar way to Best MySpace Band’s relationship with MySpace. The key part of Paul’s assessment in my view is his assessment of business model vulnerabilities:

Ultimately sleevenotez may have a bigger problem with their business model — many of the webservices that they rely on — and flickr for instance — have terms-of-service that allow for non-commercial use of the services. Sooner or later sleevenotez may start making money with their site — via Amazon referrers or advertising (they may already be doing that now) — when that happens they’ll have to make commercial arrangements with their data providers to avoid violating the terms-of-service — and that may be quite difficult. For now, most companies are content to look the other way and let people mashup their data — its all part of growing an ecosystem around one’s data — it certainly can help companies like for instance if alternative interfaces spring up that ultimately drive people to use the plugin — but may also get a bit chuffed if a site like sleevenotez starts to siphon away Amazon referrers — it would only take a ‘cease-and-desist’ letter from a lawyer (or do they call them solicitors over there?) to make the house of cards come tumbling down. 

Now, as far as I can tell, Best MySpace Band doesn’t depend on any webservices from MySpace, so they may be protected from getting that kind of cease-and-desist letter. (It does depend on MySpace’s trademark, however, and could surely be asked to change its name at any time.) But as I suggested above, it’s vulnerable by other means to MySpace choking it out of existence.

The people who are sitting pretty here are the primary sites: MySpace,, Flickr etc. They get to see all these third parties build added value services on top of their platform and their data. Many of those services will fail, but that’s no skin off MySpace’s nose, because they’ve paid nothing for the effort. In the case of the few that succeed, however, the primary site can just choke off the secondary site and replicate the services themselves as part of their own offering.

Could it be that, for the secondary sites like Best MySpace Band and Sleevenotez, the fruit of their success will be the seed of their undoing?

Meanwhile, if you read a book like Wikinomics, you’ll come across the argument that collaboration is the new paradigm for business, and corporations should open up their data selectively to encourage others to help solve their problems. I don’t think you’ll find the suggestion that this is a good way for big guys and first movers to swallow up the best ideas of the little guys, put them out of business, and not pay them anything. But nudge, nudge, wink, wink, eh?

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