Building the next MySpace

4 08 2006

There has been a lot of attention lately over “building the next MySpace”, both referring to some website replicating the incredible viral success and reach of MySpace and also whether someone in the social networking space can topple the giant MySpace has become.

For the former, there will be another MySpace – there are always cultural phenomenon and that’s truly part of what makes life so interesting.

For the latter, the short answer is: No. The longer answer:

MySpace has a network effect just like the one that keeps eBay in a dominant position. The switching cost is not necessarily that high, but you have to pass that switching cost for tens of millions of users before it tips towards any other social networking provider.

There are rafts of imitators – MySpace for pets, MySpace for cults (jokingly), MySpace for older people, so on and so forth. There’s just so many that they usually often fall into one of two categories, either there’s certainly a niche to fill there for a specialized enough network or the niche targets are too small to gain any useful traction.

There’s Friendster (although they missed their chance – more on that in a sec), Bebo, TagWorld and many, many more. Without knowing many of the details of each and every one of these networks (I’ll leave that analysis to more qualified Web 2.0 pundits), I’m going to go out on a limb and say that TagWorld is the best chance to topple MySpace.

However, this is going to happen because it has an extremely experienced team – not simply because they are there, but because they seem to recognize an interesting cross section between the MySpace world and the blogging world.

Much has been made out in the press lately about MySpace outages (frustrating to say the least) and overall shoddy architecture and design of the site.

I had an argument about whether MySpace succeeded because of its shoddy design or in spite of it. I think the answer is largely in spite of it – a better design is better, period. Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion – but in the case of MySpace, the metric is whether is helps recruit and activate users. Could a “better” design have helped it? Sure, but it’s hard to tell exactly what that is – it’s success is partially due to the approachable look of the site.

MySpace does need to get its act together with uptime. Regardless of past architectural issues – they’ve now got the resources to fix it or they will suffer the fate of Friendster. Downtime is not all or nothing, which is why I think the reports of MySpace’s demise may be slightly overstated, but continued downtime and slowness will eventually eat away and, left untouched, destroy MySpace.

MySpace succeeded because it got one thing very right – it leveraged music acts with large followings, which became the model for large or small followings to track what their favorite groups, bands or organizations were doing. It was a very natural way to allow people to do what a social network does best – let people see what others are up to, whether it’s a band, old friends or even strangers. Whether that was strictly intentional or just one of their strategies doesn’t matter, this is what made them what they are. This point is well-documented, but it happens to be one that is very, very true.

TagWorld is something of a MySpace clone, but I think what people are missing is that this team knows its technology – it’s built what looks like a great platform. So I see TagWorld as more of a mainstream blogging platform – marrying the simplicity and mainstream features of MySpace with the sophistication of blogging platforms. They have to be careful – the technology has to hide behind an approachable platform – something MySpace also succeeds at.

This marriage of approachability (MySpace has this) and sophistication (MySpace does not have this) could be one thing that TagWorld gets right and pushes it into true success. I don’t know how truly big they’ll get, but this will largely be why. But they will have done one thing right – and that one thing is not “copy MySpace”. “Copy _____” is never the right answer. Microsoft copied, but they got one thing right – opening up the OS to anyone that would buy it.

You can call it curve jumping, paradigm shifting or whatever else, but the key is that it does not have to be so significant to be useful and successful that it’s the first computer, first operating system, first refrigerator or first telephone.

I call it just “getting one thing right”. Sometimes there could be more than one and sometimes it’s not necessarily easy to get that one thing right, but there are rarely more than a few key things you must get right. You can get everything else 80% right and it doesn’t so much matter. But you must get 100% of what matters right.

In my new start-up, I constantly have to remind myself of this fact. I’m inclined to think about what matters most which I think overall is a net positive, but also recognizing the need to overly stress about what doesn’t matter.

Do you know what your one thing is?

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