Is MySpace Over?

Experts say newest move may be sign of social network's last gasp.


Feb. 1, 2008 — -- "Are you on MySpace?"

For those college-age or older, the answer may be increasingly no, coupled with a smirk, a roll of the eyes, and a withering "No way. MySpace is for sexual predators."

While MySpace has at least twice the traffic and more users than its biggest competitor, Facebook, the younger site is clearly capturing the cachet so crucial to making a social network successful.

"Facebook is the company to watch, while MySpace is falling off the radar," Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle told "MySpace is increasingly irrelevant. Unless they change that, they'll go the way of Netscape or Friendster or any number of other Web properties."

But even if MySpace is no longer the hippest site on the block, according to industry experts, it's not going down without a fight.

Although MySpace launched first, historically, the site has lagged far behind Facebook in innovations. While Facebook opened up its site to developers months ago, MySpace will just begin doing that next week.

Last year, ABC News and Facebook launched a partnership focused on the 2008 presidential election.

Chasing after Facebook's audience is a bad move, said Enderle.

"Facebook is really targeted at an older audience," he said. "Trying to copy Facebook is making MySpace look less and less relevant, [like it's] trying to chase the wrong company."

Instead, MySpace should look to the innovations of social networks targeted to children, especially those that have been particularly aggressive in developing technology to protect kids online, Enderle said.

"MySpace has picked up lot of negative attention in recent months, as children have been targeted by predators," he said.

According to Enderle, MySpace is perceived as having a much younger child audience than Facebook, which began as a social network for college students.

Facebook's original identity may have lent the site credibility that MySpace doesn't have, and its users, who were nearly the same age as creator Mark Zuckerberg, may have inspired privacy protections not found on other sites.

For example, on Facebook, only users who are signed in can look for users; not so on MySpace. Users can also set their Facebook profiles to private, so they can't be found, even when they're searched for.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, teens are much savvier than adults when it comes to protecting their privacy when using social networks.

"Social networking sites have made it very easy to present yourself online, but what's difficult is to navigate that space in a really smart way," said Susannah Hoff, an associate director at Pew. "Teenagers are much more likely to have a social profile than adults, but teens are more likely than adults to have limited private settings. That's a marker for sophisticated use."

According to Pew, 55 percent of online teens have created an online profile, and 59 percent of them have limited the access to their profile to just their friends. Only 20 percent of online adults have created an online profile, and of those 38 percent have restricted access to friends only, Pew found.

Last week, MySpace faced a more concrete challenge to its status than just the anecdotal "hip factor," in the person of Simon Owens, a 23-year-old Virginia-based blogger and reporter.

On his blog Bloggasm, Owens put out a call to his readers for an "International Delete Your MySpace Profile Day" to be held Jan. 30.

"Dear Myspace, Because you claim over 200 million accounts and don't report on actual active users like Facebook (60 million), we are grouping together to delete all our empty, dead, double, and never-been-used profiles on your ad filled site so that your true numbers can shine," Owens wrote. "Don't get too excited when you see a big spike in log-ins on January 30th, it is just so we can delete our dead accounts. Cheers!"

"It was only semi-serious -- I posted it out of a fit of anger on a Sunday night," Owens told

Owens put the call out, he said, because MySpace is inefficient and clogged with corporations, technical inefficiencies and spam.

"MySpace is designed for the '90s. It doesn't listen to its users. It's very inefficient and very glitchy and sacrifices usability for page views," he said. "Facebook is very, very efficient."

But Facebook has its own detractors. In 2007, Facebook began what became a highly controversial tracking program that allowed users' friends to automatically see what they had purchased on various Web sites. Users complained about the program and Zuckerberg apologized. The program still runs on the site, but users now have to opt in to it.

And for the record, MySpace isn't all spam and band members' pages either.

According to Michael Arrington, founder and co-editor of the Silicon Valley blog TechCrunch, while MySpace may be lacking the Facebook's current cachet, it's not time to count out the site yet.

"When MySpace rose against Friendster, Friendster didn't do anything to stop it. ... MySpace is not in that position. It has lots of resources and money," Arrington said. "We're not going to see a situation where MySpace just lays down and dies. It will be a pretty epic battle between MySpace and Facebook."

And MySpace is battling back with its own innovations, Arrington said.

In October, Skype and MySpace teamed to allow MySpace users to make Skype calls using the MySpace IMing system.

"This was the first time ever that they ever integrated their software into a third party," Arrington said. "That was sort of a first technically and they're clearly trying to do interesting things that even Facebook hasn't done."

MySpace still has a long way to go in overcoming its stodgy reputation in the Web world.

"What the party ends up being depends on who you invite first. MySpace's weakness is it invited kids first," Silicon Valley-based technology forecaster Paul Saffo said. "College students are the perfect way to start something. They're allegedly mature, but young enough to be hip."

Saffo said that MySpace also has to overcome the machinations of its owners. The company was bought by News Corp. in 2005.

"MySpace really suffered because it was acquired," he said. "Media owners don't understand this revolution and the power of user-generated content. Facebook is still run by the founders who really do have a vision."

MySpace and Facebook aside, the next battle in the social network war, according to Saffo, will be which site can take it to the next level when it comes to mobile applications and connectivity to other social networks.

"Social networking applications really make the most sense on devices that fit in your pocket than on your desk. That's going to really change when the majority of people are accessing e-mail from handheld devices from street corners," he said. "I wouldn't count MySpace out, but I also wouldn't ignore the possibility that an entirely new player is going to be the dominant player."

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