Facebook gets a face lift; MySpace loses execs

ByJon Swartz, USA TODAY
March 5, 2009, 1:43 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- The battle of social networks intensified Wednesday as Facebook unfurled a major redesign and rival MySpace nws lost three key executives.

Facebook said it's overhauling key parts of its "news feed" — the stream of status updates, photos and more that members share with one another — to make it more appealing to users and advertisers.

"Facebook has evolved to make sharing information more efficient and to give people more control," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. "This year, we are going to continue making the flow of information even faster and more customized."

Starting Wednesday, Facebook is replacing the "status" box at the top of a member's home page with a box asking a Twitter-like, "What's on your mind?" In it, users can post thoughts, photos, videos and more that make their way to a news feed friends can see.

Perhaps more significant, Facebook added more sophisticated filtering to that stream of shared material. Now, you will be able to set limits on what you share or see the most of: choosing, perhaps, to glimpse only updates from close friends and relegating business contacts to the sidelines. You might ax overly talkative friends, for instance, so their frequent updates are removed from the news feed.

Facebook also offers a Pages feature that is akin to a static home page for public figures such as President Obama and Britney Spears, and organizations such as CNN. As of Wednesday, those pages started to look more like individual profiles. Users of public profiles are now able to sign up fans as friends, issue status updates and send messages. Among those with new profile pages are U2 and Stanford University.

"This will be successful because it gives Facebook users more control over news feeds, and it replicates Twitter," says Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester Research. He says 18 million Facebook users update their status at least once a day.

Meanwhile, the loss of three key MySpace executives, following the departure of the News Corp. executive in charge of the social-networking site, has sparked concerns about MySpace's future amid a reeling economy and Facebook's rapid growth.

Wednesday, MySpace said Chief Operating Officer Amit Kapur and two others — Jim Benedetto, senior vice president of engineering, and Steve Pearman, senior vice president of product strategy — are leaving to start a venture in Los Angeles.

Their departures come on the heels of last week's resignation of News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin, who oversaw Fox Interactive, which owns MySpace. Chernin leaves June 30; MySpace says the three execs will stick around a few weeks.

MySpace had no comment on when it plans to replace Kapur, who was COO for more than a year and helped create MySpace Music.

The upper-management exodus comes against a backdrop of trying times for MySpace. Facebook recently passed it in worldwide monthly active users — 175 million to 130 million. A sagging economy has cut into ad sales, forcing MySpace to lay off a handful of its 1,600 workers last month.

MySpace enjoys an edge over Facebook in unique monthly U.S. users, 76 million to 55 million, says researcher ComScore. The bulk of the world's online ad revenue comes from the U.S.

MySpace CEO and co-founder Chris DeWolfe was unavailable for comment on the resignations. But in a memo to employees Wednesday, he predicted 2009 "will be a big year for our business." He said, "We are effectively monetizing the stickiest sections of our site, such as music." DeWolfe, along with co-founder Tom Anderson, is under contract until October.

Despite the changes, MySpace expects to expand its revenue, which was an estimated $750 million last year. Facebook rang up about a third of that in 2008, according to financial analysts.

"In the economic downturn, everyone is forced to look at the bottom line," says Emily Riley, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "And the social-networking sites haven't produced good monetization plans."

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