The MySpace (bottle) rocket

Friendster’s fading. Flickr’s feeling tired. But MySpace is rocking, Facebook’s booming and TagWorld’s launching.

It’s clear that community sites can have a lot of appeal, particularly to the young. MySpace, for instance, logged nearly 12 billion page views last month – that’s more than eBay – according to Business Week. What’s less clear is how long the appeal will last. Will those that flock to community sites when they’re fashionable hang around indefinitely? Or will they stay only until a hipper joint opens up down the (virtual) street?

My guess is that online hot spots, like their real-world counterparts, will go in and out of fashion fairly quickly – and that those betting on their staying power will be disappointed. One reason is simply the fickleness of the young; as soon as a place gets too popular (and the bald-headed guys with backwards baseball caps start showing up), the trendsetters head for the exits, and the crowd soon follows.

But another, more subtle force may also be at work. On the surface, it would seem that the more you invest in a community site – designing a home page, uploading photos, tagging everything that moves – the harder it would be to leave. After all, if you go somewhere else, you’ll have to start all over. But maybe it’s just the opposite. Maybe what’s really fun about these sites is the initial act of exploring them, putting your mark on them, checking out the marks made by others, spreading the word to friends, and so on. Once you’ve done that, maybe you start to get bored and begin looking around for a new diversion – a different place to explore and set up temporary quarters. Community sites may be like games: once they become familiar, they lose their appeal. You want to start fresh.

When it comes to Web 2.0 communities, in other words, familiarity may breed not loyalty but contempt. As we’re seeing with beleaguered Friendster, their trajectories may follow the paths of bottle rockets: up fast, down fast.

If I were Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. bought MySpace a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t just be investing in expanding the MySpace property. I’d be building (or buying) the site that’s going to displace MySpace as the in-place. It’s fine to pitch a business to a capricious clientele; just don’t expect stability.

6 thoughts on “The MySpace (bottle) rocket

  1. ordaj

    The problem I have with a lot of it is that it changes too frequently. This is the latest marketing mojo, I believe, but it’s annoying. Even when I go to the grocery store and want to buy something I like or know, it seems the damn product has changed its packaging or in some other way. It’s the whole “new and improved” thing hyped up on a non-frequency scale. It’s never really new and improved, only claiming it as such.

    I want a tried-and-true, warm and fuzzy, familiar offering. They seem to have gone the way of the dodo. Everybody’s on a hyper schedule. MAKE MORE MONEY TODAY!


  2. David Brake

    I think you are on to something here. As Steven Berlin Johnson points out in his recent book Everything Bad Is Good For You, mastering the rules can be half the fun of adopting a new game (or in this case website). Of course it would be great from a user perspective if some of the user registration you have to do at each of these sites could be simply moved to the next Web 2.0 site along. The W3C tried to come up with something like that years ago, and Passport was also supposed to fix this but neither seems to have taken off. Nor has the open “Liberty Alliance Project” Pity…

  3. Justin Pfister

    I’d be weary discounting social networks as short term trends. In this world where we goto 6 different schools, have 5 different careers and live in 4 different places there is no sense of connection to anything. Social Networks weave the fabric of our relationships and help us feel at home where ever we find ourselves. Social networks help us find an auto mechanic, a realtor or a special interest group. They allow us to rely less on marketing and more on our friends (or friends of friends). And they just don’t make me use the computer more. In fact, I notice and increase in physical socializing in my circle of friends since social networks have emerged. I’ve also noticed it’s easier to date and meet new people. Social Networks are filling a void in our lives that has been removed by the all the busyness and constant chaos.

  4. Bernard Pieper

    (English is not my native language, so beware :-)

    I follow sites like Friendster and recently MySpace for a long time; since I have, like many people, my own ideas about the social community phenomenon. The reason I follow them is that I developed far away in 1998 the idea about communities on Internet, we even attracted an investor for 6+ million USD…. but the backed off days before signing contract since the dot-com crash in 2000.

    In the past years I developed my “own” community –on paper- and now the MySpace alike communities are all over the news, I see the points where it will go wrong in time, since something is missing :-).

    Friendster was, IMHO, one of the good attempts, but without a broad vision that is needed to have a worldwide community that attracts millions and millions of people and build steady ground for the future, it will go down.

    It seems the only goal is indeed “MAKE MORE MONEY TODAY!” and don’t look further to what a worldwide community can be for all…

    Now I look back to my own plan with a total new approach and see that there is really another way. And believe me, its really different and revolutionary and without being modest at all I dare to say its brilliant….

    So basically I am in the “make more money today” camp also: I’m back on my way to look for investors to start it up….

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