Tom Barfield's blog

Personal musings of a young journalist in London

Facebook-Myspace Mashup: opinions roundup

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Everyone on the internet has by this point posted exactly how they feel about the Facebook-Myspace “Mashup” over the last week, so I thought I’d pull together what some of my favourite sites and people saw fit to say about it.

This new feature is a great illustration of our strategy around social entertainment and enabling the real-time stream. The stream is one of our most popular features on Myspace, and it is now delivering an even richer entertainment experience of relevant content for our users to enjoy.

That’s how it was announced in a press release that is, as usual, about four times as long as it needs to be and sounds like it was written by a computer program designed to emulate the 100 most carefully inoffensive corporate websites in the world. The important things to take away from this are (a) that Myspace is now pushing itself as a “social entertainment” service now that it has been comprehensively thrashed at social networking by Facebook; (b) that their most trumpeted new idea is a “real-time stream” which might have been original in about 2004 but which is pretty contemptible as a flagship feature for 2010.

I should make the point here that I didn’t sign up for the Facebook-Myspace-Mashup-ganza to try it out. I already use Facebook, Gmail, Google Calendar and all kinds of other Web applications that are merrily gathering my personal data and farming it out to advertisers. If anything, I trust Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation even less with my personal data than the band of geeks-turned-corporate-zombies who currently have access to it, so no amount of one-click transferring all of it to yet another website could tempt me.

Gizmodo and Techcrunch managed to totally miss the point, saying:

It’s a desperate act on MySpace’s part, an acknowledgement of their irrelevance and Facebook’s social data dominance. And saddest of all? Facebook just doesn’t give a shit about MySpace. The fact that Facebook is comfortable letting you carry your precious info to what at least used to be a direct competitor shows how little competition is actually going on. It’s the equivalent of giving away your raggedy old t-shirts to charity. Now, of course, this isn’t an act of charity—perhaps MySpace had to drop some cash on Facebook’s lap before this happened—but it solidifies MySpace’s place as a haggard has-been.

(Sam Biddle at Gizmodo)

and:

The event is less of a partnership announcement and more of a formal surrender ceremony.

(Michael Arrington at Techcrunch)

If they’d read the press release I’d quoted earlier instead of bashing out an article (which is, admittedly, full of funnies) the second they heard the words “Facebook” “Myspace” and “sharing data”, they might have realised that the reason Facebook doesn’t give a shit about MySpace having access to its users’ data is because MySpace isn’t trying to compete with them any more. MySpace is trying to adapt itself to the role people have chosen for it; it’s where you go to follow your favourite bands, not your friends (bands are still practically required by law to have a MySpace page).

This might actually work out, because being a “fan” of something is still a pretty dull and pointless activity on Facebook (notwithstanding the British monarchy’s recent adoption of a fan page), and MySpace always had (I don’t know if it still does) better tools for customising your page and making it look like your own personal website rather than an entry in the Internet Yellow Pages like Facebook.

Mashable and Cnet are a bit more optimistic about the venture, saying:

The move is significant for a couple reasons. First and most obvious, it’s official acknowledgment on the part of MySpace that Facebook has indeed become top dog in the social networking space, and it’s better to be with them than against them at this point. Second, and more important as MySpace looks to turn itself around, it creates a huge new audience for MySpace’s content and affirms its focus on entertainment.

(Adam Ostrow at Mashable)

and:

MySpace is trying to stop comparisons to Facebook by rebranding itself as a “social entertainment” site … Adding Facebook’s broad array of “likes” gives MySpace users a quick way to assemble that data …

Why people wouldn’t just follow their favorite bands and actors on Facebook–especially if they’ve already updated their Facebook profiles with all of those “likes”–is a little confusing.

(Tom Krazit at Cnet)

Ostrow’s first point is easy to agree with, and seems to be exactly what the good Sam Biddle of Gizmodo missed above; MySpace is acknowledging that it’s just not a competitor in the social networking space any more, which, if anything, makes them look like more of a viable business proposition than before. If they’re offering something significantly different from and complementary to Facebook, they stand a far better chance of surviving (and justifying all those Murdoch millions) than fighting some kind of noble last stand to defend their founding identity.

The second of Ostrow’s points is a bit more problematic and illustrates why you have to be careful with words, even when you’re writing on the Internet, for people on the Internet, about the Internet. This isn’t “creating a huge new audience for MySpace’s content” at all. It’s making it easier for Facebook users (i.e. people with a pulse, under 30, in the Western hemisphere) to sign up to MySpace. That’s it. Maybe only 3 people will decide to do it. Nothing has been “created” here, but there’s a possibility that enough buzz has been created around this event that MySpace might build up a sustainable user base for its new business model.

Krazit has latched onto the social entertainment concept as well, which is all to the good, but misses the point that being a “fan” of something on Facebook is about as interesting as collecting stamps on one of those loyalty cards that Starbucks gives out. It’s an experience devoid of personality, humanity and any real interest. Giving bands the opportunity to offer a personalised experience to their fans is something that MySpace ought to be able to do much better than Facebook; they at least have a long history of offering customisable personal web spaces, where Facebook has an Apple-like laser focus on getting everyone’s profile to look EXACTLY THE PERFECT WAY THE ALMIGHTY CEO HAS DECREED IT SHOULD LOOK.

Then again, MySpace is just another huge corporate entity which is hell-bent on collecting your personal data so that it can sell you things, or sell other people the opportunity to sell you things. So I’ll leave you with the thoughts of my favourite author William Gibson on the entire social-networking phenomenon:

I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.

(William Gibson in an interview with nymag.com)

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Written by Tom Barfield

November 26, 2010 at 8:43 am

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