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.
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.