Brian Stelter opens his piece on MySpace
on a generally positive note, suggesting he was intending his write-up for the New York Times
to be a sympathetic look at the company's relationship to its corporate parent, owned by Rupert Murdoch. But the article ends up painting a picture of a site without a clear vision of its future. In probably the most damning paragraph in the article, an advertising executive says that the MySpace's parent company had envisioned the site as a portal, but that he "thought they would be much further along with that today." For about a decade, websites have tried to mask their lack of focus by labeling themselves portals. A decade ago, that strategy worked pretty well for Yahoo! in 1996, when it had enough content to really make it stand out from the crowd. But it's hard to imagine that a similar strategy will work in 2008. Users have many more choices and more sophisticated tools for finding the content they need, so the attraction of a one-size-fits-all portal is much lower.
I suspect that the fundamental problem is that it just doesn't make much sense for an "old media" company like News Corp. to own a tech startup like MySpace. They key to MySpace's success in the years before the acquisition was precisely that the company didn't
need to produce content; users created "content" of their own by swapping messages, posting pictures and music, etc. Social networking sites are fundamentally technology platforms that enable users to share their own content with one another. Trying to produce "original content" for the site is a step in the wrong direction. There's no way they can satisfy the diverse tastes of their millions of users, but they can waste a lot of money trying. And while MySpace focuses on becoming more like the mainstream media, its competitors—especially Facebook—are working feverishly on enhancements to their underlying technology platforms. Meanwhile, the MySpace user experience continues to deteriorate. I regularly get spam from other MySpace users (although this has become less common in recent months), the site is littered with gaudy banner ads, and I encounter error messages a lot more frequently than I do on Facebook. These are the sorts of problems that an 80-year-old newspaper mogul like Murdoch just isn't going to know how to deal with. He is, by all accounts, a brilliant businessman, but he's not a technologist, and it was probably a mistake for him to buy what was fundamentally a technology company.