Updated: Jul 18, 2020
In the early days of social network (2005), there was excitement and doubt in the air but no one is really sure. There was a notable player named MySpace (startup in 2003 by Intermix Media employees). It had 100 million users and had financial backings. Facebook started a few years later (February 2004) and over took MySpace. Despite being affiliated with Murdoch's News Corp. and the media family, the MySpace site still managed to fail. Why?
If there are 2000 reasons to fail, and you managed to dodge 1900 of them, the company fail. The three biggest failures of MySpace are listed below.
There are many possible citations in MySpace's failure to become the dominant player in the social network scene, despite for being an early dominant player. It initially focused on arts and creative people as niche market entry point, and then was trying to please too many "general public" with overly sophisticated front end customization capabilities. It lost both customer focus and financial patience, and its customers are lost in the sophisticated capabilities it offered to them (ironically). In the end, Facebook took over, for many lucky but inevitable (in hind sight) reasons.
The top three technical reasons MySpace failed are:
Reason #1: The site was too messy, it is described as a "spaghetti ball" with too many bloated customization, but no quality control and user service. Facebook was simplified and better designed ergonomically.
Reason #2: MySpace users use assumed names, whereas Facebook users use real identifies. This minor non-technical decision is very critical.
Reason #3: MySpace got managed by professional managers and MBAs too early on, whereas Facebook maintained startup culture and adapt to market shifts. Facebook remained humble and nimble.
Let's analyze the three points more.
MySpace over built many capabilities but did not move quickly
MySpace spent hundreds of millions of dollars building its own content delivery network (CDN), whereas websites today would use a cloud network like Amazon’s. MySpace was just a tad too early. But it spent a lot of money in a hurry.
Sean Percival was a VP of online marketing for MySpace. “More money. More money pouring out. The total of money lost? I don’t even know, but it is in the billions of dollars. Thankfully News Corp has a few billion dollars and they could afford it,” he said, before recalling the “mess” that the original MySpace became in its later years. Sean added:
“The site was such a massive spaghetti-ball mess. You could do these tree flowcharts of your website … and we did it, and it was like the seven scrolls that you could see. It just went on forever and ever and ever… We were not nimble in any way, shape or form.”
Customization killed MySpace. Overconfidence killed MySpace.
It is relatively simple to associate the failure of MySpace to the rather horrendous design flaws in the site’s engineering. MySpace allows users to customize their user pages by entering HTML and CSS into three potential sections: “About me”, “I’d like to meet” and “Interests”. The reality is that user added coding is positioned within the center of the page rather than being situated in the head element. This means that the page will load with the default MySpace layout before unexpectedly shifting to the custom layout.
Aside from web developers, there were few to ever master the art of designing MySpace profiles. Consequently creating a digital landscape of Geocities-like pages stoutly serving as eyesores and annoyances, rather than functional personal pages and profiles.
Poorly constructed MySpace profiles could undoubtedly freeze-up web browsers due to deformed coding, or as a result of users placing high-bandwidth rudiments in their profiles—such as video, graphics, and flash. These could be set to auto play on load. And when you have multiple items set to play on load, you have sounds playing over other sounds—creating audio chaos known as the train wreck effect.
In October 2005, a flaw in MySpace’s site design was exploited, creating the first self propagating cross site scripting worm—which swiftly became one of the world’s fastest spreading computer viruses.
In the beginning, this allowance for being able to customize and modify one’s profile with colors and themes as well as embedded objects was a luxury neglected to be offered by other blogs and social networks. MySpace filled this void and granted users the ability to add personality to their profiles.
What was once emphasized as the best part of this company has undeniably become its systematic flaw. In the end, the user experience was destroyed by its users. MySpacers were tired of all the tribulations, all the uninhibited, redundant flare and the lack of support—so they moved on to a better, more standardized solution: Facebook.
MySpace educated the public, and Facebook Moved in With Right Niche Attack
Sean Parker, an investor of Facebook, credit the ingenious move of targeting college kids for Facebook’s eventually market dominance, “Facebook entered the market through college and the reason we went in through college was that college kids were generally not Myspace users. College kids were generally not Friendster users …”
Parker also alludes to the latter social network’s specialization as being deliberate, “It was this completely open market and it was a real longshot. Nobody actually believed, outside of us three or four people in Palo Alto, that you could enter the market through this niche market and then gradually through this carefully calculated war against all the social networks become the one social network to rule them all.”
“The real problem was that the world had been trained by MySpace that social networking was interesting, but the actual product had been perfected by Facebook,” Mike Jones, the former head of MySpace said.
Facebook’s killer feature was that it replicated the real world by forcing people to use their real names, whereas MySpace users used pseudonymous handles, says Jones. When MySpace started, the concept of giving out your real name, your identity, or photos of yourself to a website were all considered “risky behaviors.” MySpace began the process of convincing people to move past that fear. Facebook ended that discussion.
The comparison of management style - Founder vs. Manager/MBA
Mark Zuckerberg was willing to allow Facebook to go wherever the market wanted it. Farmville and other social games - why not? Different ways to find potential friends - go for it. The founders kept pushing the technology to do anything users wanted. If you have an idea for networking on something, Facebook pushed its tech folks to make it happen. And they kept listening. And looking within the comments for what would be the next application - the next promotion - the next revision that would lead to more uses, more users and more growth.
Unfortunately, MySpace demonstrates a big fallacy of modern management. The belief that smart MBAs, with industry knowledge, will perform better. That "good management" means you predict, you forecast, you plan, and then you go execute the plan.
Sean Parker said, “The failure to execute product development,” Parker replies. “They weren’t successful in treating and evolving the product enough, it was basically this junk heap of bad design that persisted for many many years. There was a period of time where if they had just copied Facebook rapidly, they would have been Facebook. They were giant, the network effects, the scale effects were enormous.”