Think Before you Speak!

No, this isn’t another post about Google + although the rapid rise and excitement of Google’s latest and greatest social network is the impetus for this post (that was originally to be titled, “Shut the F*ck Already with the MySpace Comparisons). However, with all of the recent tweets, status updates and blog posts predicting the demise of either Facebook, Twitter or both a la MySpace, I couldn’t not share my thoughts in a space that allowed for more than 140 characters. What I can tell you is that while I have seen too many big companies fail over my lifetime to not know that it can always happen again, if Facebook and Twitter fail, it won’t be for the reasons that MySpace did.

For starters, let’s clarify that MySpace did NOT fail because a newer, shinier object came along in the form of Facebook OR Twitter. MySpace failed because of several fundamental flaws in the way it operated, particularly once it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch (btw, Businessweek wrote a great article that goes into all the details of the rise and fall of MySpace).

In particular:

  • Once Murdoch purchased MySpace, there was significant pressure to deliver revenue (not necessarily a bad thing). Unfortunately, this forced MySpace to ramp up the advertising opportunities on the site which led to a lot of spammy ads for unsavory products. As a corollary to this, Twitter and Facebook are both venture backed and private. While both are feeling pressure to deliver more revenue, innovation has taken precedence over money.
  • MySpace made the fatal mistake (I’ll call this the AngelFire Boner) by allowing users to customize the background, fonts, layouts of their pages. While creativity is good, allowing for 8 billion different user interfaces (UI) across 350 million pages is not. UI 101 calls for putting things in the places where users expect to find them. Some people are good at this. Most people are not.
  • Demographics – while most companies love to attract the 18-35 set (male-skewed), there is a downside to this strategy. This demographic tends to be technology-savvy and fickle. The combination of the two allows them to pick up their “ball” and take it to a different ballpark whenever they like. You’ll notice that Twitter’s demographic came out of the gate closer to 32 than 22 and Facebook’s fastest growing (and most dedicated) segment right now are women over 40.
  • Lack of developer commitment. While Twitter and Facebook have both fostered rich ecosystems of developers, MySpace never went down this path.
  • After a few months of MySpace being the apple of Murdoch’s eye, a new “jewel” in the crown emerged when Murdoch opted to court and ultimately purchase the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Does this mean that the rise of Googe + (which is still has only 5 million more users than photo sharing site, Instagram, and the same number of users as location-based service, foursquare) won’t kill either Twitter or Facebook? No. But if it does, it will be for different reasons than those that dethroned MySpace. To that end, I responded to a tweet by Edelman EVP and uber-blogger, Steve Rubel, regarding a post that tech-blogger, Robert Scoble, wrote the other day about how Twitter had become boring and what it could do to fix that problem. My message to Steve was that “Twitter has become like electricity. Boring but critical.” Facebook will be around for a while longer because of the “barriers to exit” it’s created with the over 40 set. What this means is that Facebook owns most people’s social graph and it has taught most parents and grand parents how to post, comment and share. For this reason, it will take a pretty significant change to get these people to leave (privacy be damned!)
What do you think?

Comments

  1. says

    Aaron, this is a good analysis on what makes social platforms/services rise and fall. I particularly agree with your fourth point, “Lack of Developer Commitment”. When FB opened up the platform it spawned a wave of growth and innovation not seen before previously. As a result, embracing developers and providing API access to the platform has become a must-do, standard practice for new companies. FB/Twitter realized that an extended community of developers is far more innovative and creative than any single internal team could ever be. Myspace failed to accept this and ultimately lost the features/functionality arms race. 

    • Anonymous says

      Ken – glad you liked and thanks for commenting. This is a trend (involving the developer community) that is impacting the mobile world as well. Apple and Android have realized this — Blackberry, not so much. It will be interesting to see how Google (who knows a thing about developer involvement — see Google Maps for example) fairs.

      • says

        It’s a significant trend/pattern that companies cannot afford to miss on. I think Apple will eventually suffer for their iron-grip hold over iOS innovations. Contrast that with how Google has opened up Android platform, allowing a global network of developers to build on. Over time, you cannot win against that level of competition. Well, at least that seems like a logical disadvantage! 

  2. says

    I love this post and completely agree. I like Google+, it’ well thought-out, designed and functional. However I think it’s just too late in the game. I don’t see any compelling reason to leave Twitter and/or Facebook, and as you aptly mention there’s nothing “wrong” with either the same way there was with MySpace.

    Also while I think Google is one of the most admirable companies around, I don’t think a “big” company can burst through with the next big “thing”–it takes innovation and the ability to pivot/change quickly and even Google has red tape that prevents it from doing so.

    The problem is, like you mentioned, Twitter is now boring (in a good way) so now everyone is just salivating for the next big thing…  Calm down, relax, we probably won’t see it coming anyway. :)

    • Anonymous says

      Kelly – interesting take. You read more into my post than I think I intended but I don’t necessarily disagree with you. In my mind, I see Google + co-existing with Twitter and Facebook just like we have multiple television stations, retail stores and mobile phone operating systems. Diversity is a good thing and fosters innovation and competition. Either way, thank you for your thought-provoking comment.

  3. says

    As always, great post, Aaron. Tho, I like your original title best :-) I think it will be interesting to see how users – both the early adopter and the more mainstream adopter – take a ahold of G+, while also managing FB, Twitter, Foursquare and the other social sites du jour. Do you think that G+ will be more for the social media savvy super users or do you see it as moving out and gaining adoption with the masses? 

    PS: I love the quote about Twitter being like electricity. It does provide such a wealth of information but has kind of become a commodity vs an exciting place to be.

    MY $.02.

    MH

  4. says

    Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

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