Mike at Life on the Road has carried the conversation about MySpace in an interesting direction (see his post as well as his comments to my previous post). One of his central arguments is that social networking sites are not all that different from most other “destination” sites: places where people come to connect with similar people.
I agree with this line…in it’s extreme, social networking sites are just another kind of chum to draw users in (to sell them ads, goods, and services). It’s a particularly convenient kind of chum, as the users develop it for you.
Prodigy, as one of the first ISPs, started life thinking they were part mall and part newspaper–meaning they thought they were going to make money by selling ads and getting commissions on third party internet sales. Instead, users flocked to their message boards and email and, in so many words, used it as a social networking site. Prodigy’s response was to begin charging by the email and by the hour for their message boards. Users left, and Prodigy never got them back.
One of the reasons to question MySpace’s metaphor is to better understand what business they’re in–what value they’re in the business of creating–and what business they want to be in. Are they the new Viper Room, the new Mickey Mouse Club or the new NBC?
Google, as Mike notes, has done a very good job of not allowing its original metaphor (an index on steroids) to become fixed in its users’ minds. Instead, their continual introduction of new tools has forced users to continually revise their assumptions about what Google is and does. More so than any one feature (like mail or calendar or maps) this series of new tools ensures that Google remains a living and evolving business concept. And its users never pigeon-hole them.
It’s up to MySpace to think past the initial metaphors (their own and their users’), use the current traffic to shape a new form that is more defensible and adaptable than the current one.