Bright Lights Project: MySpace

futurelab default header

The facts speak for the themselves: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought MySpace in 2005 for $580 million and is selling it this week to Specific Media for $35 million. It made its purchase price back perhaps a couple times over by crapping out the site with innumerable ads (remember, News Corp. was simply exploring new distribution channels and the ad model was the most obvious way to monetize the thing). But users abandoned MySpace in droves, from a peak of 90 million in 2006 to 18 million 4 years later. Today, the thing is all but dead.

Talk about an a posteri cautionary tale for all of the other social sites that look forward to untoward riches without any reference to past experience or accountability to accounting. The central tenet to all such miraculous transformations — that businesses can morph from “free” to “paid” — has yet to be proven real with any durable certitude, and the MySpace example is case in point proof that the premise may well be false. Take out the advertising element and tomorrow’s revenue aspirations of many of today’s new media darlings scarily resemble those of yesterday’s.

But that analysis is the stuff of the next IPO valuation.

I’m curious about what the new owners are going to do with it (Justin Timberlake is one of the investors who is going to play a major role in future strategy, according to the company’s press release). Specific Media is one of those businesses with a web site full of engagement and content and so much techno babblespeak that it’s impossible to tell what it is they actually do. I think they place and measure online display advertising, or something, and what little that has been written about their plans for MySpace relies on leverage, connectivity, viral, and all the same buzzwords that appear on the company’s website.

I think there are at least three things that might happen, which are easy to dismiss because they’re the most likely alternatives:

  • Revamp the site and then relaunch it as a music hub (again), attracting a bunch of one-time funds from corporate sponsors who will promptly abandon the site once nobody shows up.
  • Cut a bunch of complicated technology-based deals that seem really buzzy and cool and promise future riches, then sell for a slight premium to another investor or group that has even bigger egos than the guys at Specific Media
  • Do pretty much more of the same (irrespective of what they call it) and drive the site into the ground.

What could they do if they wanted to be truly different, if not exceptional? Here are a few thought-starter ideas:

  • Become truly user-centric — The idea of a “my” space vs. a location that belongs to corporate vultures mining my every move for new ways to sell stuff is very powerful. What if MySpace became something like a swiss bank account for individuals online, so you’d use it as your interface/firewall on other social platforms (somehow protecting your identity, credit card details, and click behavior)? Could it become the intermediary between Facebook, Twitter, et al and their users?
  • Become a real community — If you wanted to build a network that was truly based on P2P behavior (and not a shell intended for exploitation by marketers), what would it look like? We have no idea (maybe some wikis come close, but they’re about as usable as a dentists’ drill). What if MySpace told its 18 million users that they were truly going to own their community (or communities)? I wonder if anybody would care.
  • Become the vanguard for music — I’m convinced that there’s a play with music — something that merges the recommendations of Pandora, the DJ’ing of, and the music retailing of iTunes or Rhapsody — and then unites it with every undiscovered, non-label-chasing band in the universe. What if MySpace went far beyond the band pages and other standard promo tools and defined a new way of experiencing music?

Like I said, chances are MySpace will take one of the three easy paths to oblivion that I mentioned earlier.

What do you think?

(image credit: MySpace)

Original Post: