programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

12/7/09

Not that you should turn to the Financial Times for your up-to-the-millisecond Internet News or anything, but I just read an article over there that said MySpace has gone from 66% of the social networking market to 30%… in one year. That, my friends, defines an epic collapse, the kind of brand disintegration that used to be reserved for exploding gas engines and medications laced with arsenic.

With all the hand-wringing and “what went wrong?” meetings that no doubt took place all year, it seems nobody had the brussel sprouts to state the obvious: MySpace was the most cacophonous, illogically-ugly, slow-loading, assaultive site on the internet. Every time you opened a page, it was like walking into the hormone-addled cerebrum of a 13-year-old on a tussin binge. I’m actually stunned it stayed relevant as long as it did.

Facebook makes their mistakes every once in a while (god, the email program is a disaster), but it gives both the creator and user the illusion of order – a little like getting the fries at any McDonald’s. The white background establishes a sense of grounding solace, and the blue pane up top is straight out of an aerogramme via Royal Mail. You will never be kicked in the crotch by a Black-Eyed Peas song on autoplay, nor will seventy YouTube videos try to load simultaneously.

But the real reason for the smackdown isn’t just aesthetics, I think it’s emotional. Put simply, when you were on MySpace, it felt like “your MySpace page”, but when you do Facebook, it feels more like “you”. I imagine the intrusive weight-loss and penis-lengthening ads on MySpace had something to do with it, but moreover, Facebook just feels more controlled. Even as the internet provides every insane fetish you can dream up, most users would like their social network stirred, not shaken.

The saddest quote in the piece was from one of the guys who helped run MySpace back in the heady days of 2005: “It was unbridled enthusiasm. We were all arm-in-arm to change the world.” This is exactly how it felt in both of my Big Time Internet Jobs – that desire to stay up all night to tweak the site, the glee at the page hits, the belief that you were the first spaceship to enter the outer quadrants of the undiscovered country.

And like clockwork, the unabashed delight you receive at the company’s inception is directly proportional to the cruelty and humiliation you will suffer when the whole thing starts to fall apart. Any business capable of such grandiose highs – the foosball tables, the scooters, the blue-sky synergy meetings – is capable of turning on you like a toddler with unlimited power.

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I’ve told a few people about a conclusion I’ve drawn, something I call the Half & Half Theory. It basically states that internet and technology companies all start with VC money designed to bring the best and brightest into the fold – and this money will buy lunches, snacks, and the best coffee in town. The fridge will be stocked with every kind of dairy product for your coffee: half & half, whole milk, 2% milk, and skim.

As the business plan begins to sour, and the “monetization benchmarks” start looking too exuberant, the recriminations begin. One by one, the perks disappear, the half & half is gone from the fridge, foosball table handles fall off, and the scooters are locked away. Then the whole milk vanishes, then the skim, and pretty soon there’s nothing for your coffee at all, and before you know it, you and your team are fired, then led outside by security, where you will surrender your key card.

But it all starts with the half & half. When that disappears, it is time to revamp your resumé and make a couple of phone calls. I can promise you, right now, the creamers are disappearing from the offices of MySpace.

0 thoughts on “programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

  1. LFMD

    You are spot-on with the Half & Half Theory. When I was hired by the Big City Law Firm in 2000, I was amazed by the sodas, Snapple, and bottled water in the fridge (take as many as you would like!) and the Starbucks coffee brewing in the firm coffee room. Believe me, I guzzled as much Snapple and Starbucks as possible. I had a big office overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor! I was living large!
    Slowly over the next few months, the Starbucks was replaced by Maxwell House, the Snapple disappeared, and finally, the bottled water was replaced by a water cooler. Horrors! Two months later I was canned.
    Luckily, I was canned, but they “liked me”, so I was able to stay at the firm until I found another job. I was demoralized. Unable to justify leaving without having a paycheck, I kept trudging to work, trying to meet the firm’s expectations while searching for another job. I found one within 2 months, Thank God.
    I have been at the Insurance Job for 8 years. I find the fact that many employees have been here 20+ years comforting. Also comforting are the water cooler, my little cubicle, and the generic coffee and powdered generic creamer in the coffee room!

    Reply
  2. Tammy O.

    Great post, Ian.
    Myspace has always had so many problems (intrusive advertising, craptastic user design, and terrible functionality) that their decline seemed inevitable. Yet, it’s still such a de-facto stronghold for the music scene – I’d be curious to see how much of their continued marketshare revolves around music. (Actually, Ehren probably knows that…)
    But, you know, I’d like to take your observations one step further because I believe that one of the key reasons Facebook has become dominant has nothing at all to do with the technology or the design: it’s the authenticity/real identities of the users. The anonymity of the internet has always been a powerful draw, but as our identities converge more and more, I think that people are just looking for honest and authentic ways to represent themselves. To just BE in the virtual world, as well as the real world – and to have their relative boundaries respected. Myspace, and its complete lack of control around identities, ends up feeling like an exercise in prolonged, virtual adolescence. Because it offers so much freedom around profile creation and presumably customization, Myspace can claim it offers complete authenticity because there are no boundaries and users are free to ‘express themselves,’ but that doesn’t cultivate a sense of trust, integrity or, weirdly enough, honesty. I think we want to feel safe in our online relationships as well as our real-world relationships, and it seems that Facebook has learned that lesson well from Myspace.
    What Facebook hasn’t quite learned yet is how to successfully monetize the service. So we’ll see what ends up in their office refrigerators in the next year or so.

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  3. Anne

    I wonder what the Next Big Idea in Internet connectivity will be (social networking). And do not tell me “Twitter,” because it’s already dead in my eyes.

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  4. noj

    Myspace getting their comeuppance for daily aesthetic rape of GUI design. I hope it continues to plummet…
    …because that would be good for KONTAIN (shameless plug coming – i’m not spamming, though, cuz i’ve known Ian for 20 years!!!). I’ve been working for a really cool swedish company called f-i (fantasy interactive…i know it sounds like a porn company, but i promise it’s not) and we have been pushing what we hope is the next generation social & media sharing software called Kontain (www.kontain.com). Simply put, it’s for sharing media. It can be any type of media – we have our own transcoding server which can deal with just about any format of any media and we use akamai hosting services which keeps us fast. Our design is simple and intuitive and we’re stacking up awards for our work. Try it out! It’s easy, elegant and, well, ass-kicking.

    Reply
  5. Annie H.

    Hilariously, just after I read today’s post, I was looking for links to fire spinning footage on youtube (my work-related tasks can be awfully fun) and COMPLETELY by accident erased MySpace from the bookmarks bar. Poof! I laughed my ass off…
    Noj, sounds great! I’m intrigued!

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  6. tregen

    I too have seen the lawfirm “half and half” theory at work and it is true. Having worked at two “white shoe” firms both which had amazing perks such as every friday pizza and beer, in house lunch carts, etc. and slowly the perks went away until recently, I hear, both firms have started laying off associates and are asking some partners to “move on”. Hard stuff in this economy. I feel some what vindicated in choosing a much smaller insurance defense firm that was willing to support my non-insurance practice in exchange for picking me covering their more complex insurance matters litigation. Love the job, there never were and never will be the fancy perks, just good people doing a good job for fair and reasonable pay.

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  7. Drake

    Well stated as always. I can totally see the MySpace suits (if they even wore them) sitting around the table saying that the thing that made MySpace great was the ability for average users to personalize the design on their pages. All the while never realizing that average users don’t know jack about what looks good or how the Internet works (and that you shouldn’t cram 17 YouTube videos on one page).
    Having worked with you at one of those Big Time Internet Jobs, I have to laugh. We may have saved money on our desks, but we sure had the reach-in cooler loaded with Snapple! (I think I may still have some shares of stock laying around from them.)

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  8. JohnH

    As someone working to start a startup (note: without VC money), this was humorous and sobering. We have all the excitement and none of the expensive perks!

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  9. Greg T.

    noj – Kontain looks intriguing, good luck! Do you have plans to remove the size caps and upload limits? The first three things I thought to upload (2 HD vids and a 1000+ pic album from a recent trip – all currently on Flickr) all fell outside the limits :(
    I’ll keep checking in to see how it develops!

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  10. Ian

    LFMD, I apparently have a dead tooth up top, an infected gum at the bottom, and TMJ all at once. Sorry if that’s TMI (at least it’s not a UTI). TTFN!

    Reply

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