Evolving metaphors

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.

2 thoughts on “Evolving metaphors

  1. I agree with you fully on this. MySpace is a business and as such it needs to evolve to meet the changing demands of its customers. In information security companies are always chasing the hot topic: “edge security”, “defense in depth”, “compliance”. This is a bit of ambulance chasing but it also shows the industry is willing to change and adapt to the changing times and threats.
    But I *do* feel that social networks are changing and evolving. Everyone would agree that the Internet has changed our lives by bringing us closer together at faster speeds. In the same way, the Internet has changed the way that we interact and network.
    We see things happen that never were possible before, such as the Long Tail. We make connections across a much wider range of networks and physical distances.
    I know teenagers who use MySpace for the social aspect and 20-somethings who use it “just to keep tabs on friends”. Facebook came about because college students wanted to break from their highschool past. Businesses adopt Wikis to benefit from colaboration.
    The world is changing and to brand things with terms like “bubble” or “revolutionary” are very broad stokes that don’t mean much. We need to take a look at each company (or would be company) and ask ourselves: are they satisfying their customers? Are they willing to change and adapt? These answers will determine their fate much more than their current “fad” status.

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