I read with interest today the removal of Chris DeWolfe as CEO of MySpace.
The paragraph in Brandweek that caught my attention was this:
[D]espite being eclipsed of late by Facebook and other properties, MySpace is still one of the largest single sites on the Web. However, its days of unstoppable growth are clearly over. In February, the site reached over 70 million unique users in the U.S., compared to 57.4 million for Facebook. But just a year earlier, MySpace’s unique user base was at 68 million versus just 32 million for Facebook.
According to the “growth” model of capitalism, MySpace has a problem. If senior management can’t renew growth, change is called for.
But what if this growth model is, at least for new media purposes, mistaken? If we embrace a new model of the kind someone like Henry Jenkins, David Weinberger, or Don Tapscott might endorse, then this might be precisely the wrong way to think about things.
In a new media world, the objective is not continual growth. This is because the new media proposition like MySpace is trying to build a community. It is enlisting the collaboration, the cocreation, of a particular group of people. In this event, it can’t be that everyone is a potential recruit. MySpace is a particular networking proposition, one that works for some people and not for others. In this event, there must be a limit to the market.
When MySpace levels out at 70 million, this may be because it has found its limit. I don’t have access to the numbers, but if its the case that the social network market split roughly by age [MySpace for “kids,” and Facebook for “adults,” as I think Danah Boyd was suggesting several months ago], then 70 million may be just about right.
To pursue larger numbers is a dangerous thing to do, especially if it means changing the MySpace formula to broaden it’s appeal. Is this not tragic flaw of most branding exercises, diluting the brand in the pursuit of an ever larger market? But what is a bad idea for all marketing purposes is an especially stupid one when it comes to new media. Once we find our limit, we want to hold.
There is after all another option. We may give up extensive growth for an intensive bond. This may be the time to say “ok, let’s build a better connection with our community.” I mean, that’s the business we’re in. That’s what we’re for. And who is to say that intensive “growth” is not better than extensive growth. MySpace has yet to find a way to pay, but perhaps it has yet to produce right amount or kind of value. And this may be the outcome of an intensive strategy.
It’s early days. The logic of capitalism and new media will continue to bump up against one another in this way. Corporations will eventually begin to think more intelligently about the new creature in its midst. Just not yet.
Jenkins, Henry. 2008. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.
Shields, Mike. 2009. MySpace’s Chris DeWolfe Out as CEO. Brandweek. April 22, 2009. http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/content_display/news/digital-downloads/broadband/e3i2b46d200e6140dd0951130c252fd7b53
Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. 2008. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio.
Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Times Books.