Winners and losers. The decline of MySpace and reflections on the rise and fall of social network sites.

Something is rotten in the State of Denmark. MySpace, the virtual home of social networking for musicians, is in what may be terminal decline.

In February 2010, MySpace had 110 million active users, a figure that has fallen to a ‘mere’ 63 million in February 2011. The pace of the decline is accelerating, with 10 million dropping off in the last month. Laying off 500 staff certainly gives the appearance of being very bad news indeed, and certainly News Corp will be regretting the £330 million they paid for the site just five years ago. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/12862139)

The contraction of the MySpace population can surely be no surprise though. For many years the site has languished behind poorly designed interfaces and a lack of clarity about it’s role. It’s not a true social networking site, at least, not in the sense that there are more ‘broadcasters’ than actual ‘friends’ on it, although it has defaulted to be THE place to be as a young musician.

Having a MySpace site is essential for any band, but accessing these sites does not require the user to register or befriend you. Indeed, ‘friending’ on MySpace is more structured than on other sites: you can choose which of your top ‘friends’ to display on your homepage, so famous ‘friends’ are more likely to appear there. It’s not the common free for all of Facebook, it’s more hierarchical than that.

In real terms, MySpace filled a need. Bands wanted to establish a web presence where they could upload music and videos, publish their tour dates and interact with their audience for free, and it does all of that perfectly. Although it purports to do the same thing with specialist areas for photographers, film makers and so forth, these sites have never become ubiquitous. It’s music and music alone that people associate with MySpace, and whilst this may drive traffic, it’s not necessarily going to drive subscription.

There’s an interesting parallel with Twitter, where recent Yahoo research shows that, as the site celebrates it’s fifth birthday, that 0.05% of users generate 50% of consumed tweets. I other words, 20,000 users are generating 50% of the billions of tweets circulating the Twittersphere. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12805216 and
http://mashable.com/2011/03/28/twitter-study-consumed/). This parallel, where a small percentage of users are generating a disproportionate amount of content is no surprise. We see it all the time in learning situations, especially forums and blogs, where a small percentage of users actively participate, whilst the large majority are silent consumers.

The fact that Facebook generates a far higher level of dynamic conversations rather than broadcast content may not be the rule, it may be the exception. Arguably, Facebook is a more ‘social’ media than most of the others.

It does raise the question of whether MySpace is being judged (and commercially valued) according to the wrong rules. Maybe it’s value is, and always was, as a media of production and broadcast, a tool that allows musicians to broadcast. Maybe that’s all it ever was, and hopefully that’s what it will remain. It’s not dead yet, but echoes of the near fall of Bebo last year remain.

Towns and states have always risen and fallen according to trade and transport pressures. Ports grow and fall into decline in a process covering many years. Maybe we are just seeing the rewriting of the virtual landscape, but over a typically compressed timeframe.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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