To read the coverage of MySpace’s announcements on its new “platform” at the Web 2.0 conference, you would think that the site had been as closed to the outside world as North Korea, and is only opening up under pressure from Facebook.
This is, of course, telling the story backwards. And it misses the important issue for MySpace: the failings of its internal (not external) developers. And the news that Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson have renewed their contracts to run the company raises the question of whether anyone is being held accountable for the site’s technical stagnation.
Back to the platform. From the start, MySpace users have been completely open to add any other application to their pages. This was somewhat by accident: you could simply could insert HTML code to pull in a YouTube player or whatever. It was awkward, but MySpace exploded precisely because it was a rich, if cacophonous, environment filled with wacky self-expression, mixed with lots of music and video.
Facebook, by contrast, started as a closed system, focused on communication between users. Facebook’s new platform was a way to give users some of the flexibility they already have on MySpace. And, for better and worse, Facebook profiles are now getting more garish and more personal.
But Facebook, with its Silicon Valley mindset, wants to control how applications look and what they do, so it forced them to use its programming environment. This also gave applications the ability to tap into each users’ list of friends and some other information.
Facebook also defined a set of ground rules to govern how outside developers could make money on its site. MySpace had terms of service that prohibited any commercial activity on its site. At first it didn’t enforce these, but MySpace has gotten tougher recently.
The MySpace platform is an attempt to copy a few of the more orderly aspects of Facebook’s program. Applications that are tested and approved will be able to use data about users. And developers will be able to create their own pages on MySpace on which they can sell advertising and keep all the revenue. But they can’t put ads on the widgets that appear on member profile pages. (This is the same division that Facebook used.)
But I don’t think that the News Corporation can count on outsiders to do all its work for it. MySpace has been remarkably stagnant in a fast-changing space, slow to add features and fix some of its odd bugs. The company appears to have put more energy into building MySpaceTV, but that is more a brand extension meant to compete with YouTube than a significant enhancement of the MySpace experience. (To be fair, MySpace’s user base continues to grow rapidly.)
The upshot: If the platform is the only thing to change at MySpace, the site will look much the same as it does now, and it may be increasingly vulnerable to defections of users.