MySpace’s Inflection Point

myspace-logoAs Facebook becomes the most popular social network worldwide, MySpace, once deemed as its main competitor, must now undergo a rigorous effort to reinvent itself and hit a more focused audience. That seemed to be the thought of News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch, who, during a meeting of technology and media executives this week in Sun Valley, Idaho, said he thinks MySpace needs to be refocused “as an entertainment portal.”

It’s hard to imagine the media mogul is satisfied with his purchase of the social site. In recent months, it’s clear News Corp has hit a critical inflection point as it concerns MySpace’s future. Since it bought the site for $580 million exactly four years ago (July 2005), key metrics have recently held flat or fallen, as Facebook has continued to garner more user interest and media attention.

This week, we were reminded of the gravity of MySpace’s decline. According to Comscore numbers, MySpace seems to be falling in key areas.

  1. In May, Facebook caught up to MySpace’s unique visitor count. In June, it surpassed MySpace greatly; Facebook claimed 77 million unique visitors, while MySpace had around 70 million.
  2. Page views, one of the important metrics where MySpace still outpaces Facebook, dropped by 10 percent in June from the previous month, to 32 billion. Facebook now sits at 21 billion, increasing 12 percent in May.
  3. And worse, people are leaving. MySpace lost almost four million unique visitors in June, a huge jump from the 700,000 unique visitors it lost in May.

Internally, it’s also been a tough time for MySpace. In June, News Corp cut 30 percent of MySpace’s staff, and MySpace’s longtime founder and CEO Chris Delwolfe exited amidst a larger executive shakeup spearheaded by new CEO (and former Facebook CRO) Owen Van Natta and News Corp Digital Media CEO Jonathan Miller.

But MySpace can still carve out a good spot for itself as a social site where people connect around common interests, namely music and other arts. Nevertheless, MySpace’s traditional point of differentiation over Facebook – it allows for extreme user freedom and customization – has also been a burden to growth beyond a certain point.

First, in terms of identity. While the vast majority of personal accounts on Facebook are authentic and geared toward personal communication, many MySpace accounts are more oriented around marketing or promotion of some kind. This changes the way people can use the site significantly.

Second, in terms of design. MySpace users are given much leeway in how they design their pages, and they are often loud in their design as a result. Some users enjoy that freedom. Facebook, on the other hand, has gone down a more Apple-like, simplistic design. While it allows for customization via application boxes and tabs, ultimately, you can’t alter the design of a Facebook profile or home page as drastically. Because MySpace sports an open-canvas design, a typical band page (for example) has music, video and other pieces of rich content flowing all over the place; it’s not restrained to a tab like that of a Facebook Public Profile. The backgrounds are not just blue and white; they’re dark, light, and everything in between.

This is not necessarily good for efficient communication, however, and that could explain MySpace’s decline. Many don’t want to take that much time to maintain such rich profiles and home pages, and they prefer the more sleek design of Facebook and other social networks to manage their personal data and streams because it requires less time. Consequently, MySpace will become less of a site to connect with friends and more a site to follow groups (namely music).

Conclusion

For MySpace to survive, it must move more with Facebook rather than against it. Eventually, it should abandon the notion that people want to build robust profiles on MySpace and connect with their closest friends there. Instead, they should harness more niche communities that form around music, film, literature and the arts in general. This will mean a modest profile presence for users (perhaps even letting users easily link to their Facebook profile and others), and focusing the activity stream on events and discussions around shared interests. Such a model should continue to be a good fit for many types of advertisers, especially those promoting national and local events.