A lot of people who are on the outside of social networking, blogging, twittering, etc. etc. looking in think that these tools are simply another online diversion or form of entertainment, and that they serve no other real valuable purpose. Their impressions make sense – people do spend a lot of time on these things doing nothing that adds any real value to themselves or to society as a whole. But the other reason is more subtle:
It’s that MySpace has been the model for a social networking tool thusfar, and it is optimized to waste time.
Recently, my brother gave in, having been a longtime user of MySpace, and opened up shop on Facebook as well. In an email following this emotional transition, I tried to bolster him by expressing why I think Facebook is superior and simply wrote that “Facebook is a more useful social tool.”
And it is – for managing a personal social network Facebook’s clean, consistent design, news feed orientation, and third party apps make it far more useful as a social tool than MySpace. MySpace can accomplish many of the same things, but for the things that are valuable (the non-wasting-time things) Facebook just executes them in a more usable, thoughtful way. LinkedIn is similar – it has proved itself invaluable as a tool to manage a professional network recently in my job search for opportunities in Austin. It does the valuable things, like job search and connecting your network to particular jobs, very well.
So where does this leave MySpace? Well, I don’t think they will ever catch Facebook or LinkedIn as a social tool for managing your personal or professional network. Architecturally they have painted themselves too much into a corner. I think MySpace should concentrate on what they’ve done well with so far – allowing people to waste some time and network for entertainment purposes only.
They should launch gaming features with original and third party games and turn their network into an online carnival midway. They should enhance the flirting/dating/meeting new people aspects of their network. People will always need a place to stay connected to their current friends and family (Facebook), they will always need to manage their career separately (LinkedIn), and they will always need a third place to meet new people and just blow off some steam. There is room in the market for winners in those three spheres.
This is their strategic sweet spot – they need to focus and make it theirs, while they still have the lead in users. The worst thing they could do right now is to try to play catch-up with their more practical competitors.