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Myspace and the Curse of Success

Today, Specific Media, a digital advertising company, announced that it has purchased Myspace (remember Myspace?) from News Corp. Just five years ago, News Corp paid $580 million for Myspace, but since then, the once-powerful social networking site has shed users and been overtaken by Facebook. In January, Myspace laid off nearly half its staff, and Specific Media, according to a number of reports, paid just $35 million for it. How could Myspace have fallen so far, so fast?

According to one 2009 study, the website may have been a victim of its own success. In “Hot Today, Gone Tomorrow: On the Migration of Myspace Users,” Mojtaba Torkjazi and Reza Rejaie of the University of Oregon and Walter Willinger of AT&T labs examine the rise and fall of Myspace. They write that the evolution of the site “suggests that many of the existing OSNs (Online Social Networks) can be expected to go through a similar life cycle that is in part determined by a collection of social and technological factors and reflects an OSN’s ability to compete against newer OSNs.” Why are other OSNs expected to experience a similar decline? The authors offer a few reasons. First, as OSNs become popular, they become almost too huge and have difficulty connecting like-minded users. And when they become huge, OSNs also become prime targets for viruses, spam, and hackers. The most popular sites’ users are therefore more likely to fall victim to some kind of privacy violation or computer problem—Facebook is no stranger to them—possibly resulting in user alienation or desertion from the OSN altogether. Finally, the authors point out that most Internet users tend to be fickle: They can migrate quickly to fashionable new platforms, and unless their current OSN updates regularly, it can quickly be left in the dust. “In the absence of constant innovation by the OSN owner,” the authors warn, “the initial excitement of users fades away and they gradually abandon the system, typically without any prior warning.” That’s a clear warning to Facebook: If it wants to avoid Myspace’s grim fate, it will have to stay on its toes.