Friday, June 29, 2007

More on MySpace and Facebook

Earlier this week, there was a very interesting comment by Laura Vivanco, who always writes such wonderful posts. She was responding to my comment on Wednesday that it's never too soon to start a blog or an account on MySpace.

Laura said:

I recently read that MySpace and its competitor, Facebook have got different populations. I'd only ever seen MySpace mentioned and I'm not on either of them, but it got me curious about whether some authors might find it advantageous to market themselves in both or make a choice about using Facebook. Anyway, here's an excerpt from the article:

"Social networking websites are increasingly splitting along class lines, according to one prominent academic.

"In recent years networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have seen remarkable growth and become some of the most popular destinations on the internet. But Danah Boyd, a researcher at the University of California and internet sociologist, said populations of different networks were now divided on a rough class basis.

"Her evidence, collected through a series of interviews with US teenagers using MySpace and Facebook over the past nine months, showed there was a clear gap between the populations of each site.(from The Guardian).

I responded as follows:

Laura: I've read Boyd's article and am ambivalent about it. I suspect she is describing "what was" more than "what is" or "what will be." While I'm not a sociologist, my understanding is that social networks are living entities, constantly changing. We can look at a snapshot in time, but the minute the photo is taken, it begins to become a part of the past.

Because the history of the two sites is very different, it's natural that their growth patterns should have been different as well.

MySpace began only three months before Facebook did, but has four times as many members as Facebook has. This is mainly due to the fact that, from its inception, MySpace was available to anyone with an email address.

Facebook began in the spring of 2004 at Harvard as a "university" networking site. For more than two years, you had to have an "edu" email address to get onto Facebook (or be invited aboard by an existing member).

However, about nine months ago, Facebook was opened up to anyone with an email address. Many of the existing members were outraged by this move.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the demographics now that both sites are available to anyone wanting an account. I expect the "exclusivity" label of Facebook will gradually diminish under an onslaught of outsiders.

Interestingly enough, when the US military banned MySpace, they did not ban Facebook. Boyd says that this is because the officers used Facebook and the enlisted noncoms used MySpace.

Since these networking sites are vital to communication with family, my guess is that the noncoms will simply shift to accounts on Facebook, further diluting the university-only feel of the site.

Americans tend to resist attempts to classify our society by "class." More importantly, commercial enterprises seeking to promote their services/wares will continue to advertise on both sites, raising the stakes.

MySpace sold to Rupert Murdoch last year. Rumors keep circulating about the potential sale of Facebook. If a large media company either buys Facebook outright or partners with them, the push will be to increase membership to increase the advertising rates. I suspect the market will win out in the end.

Thanks for raising a really interesting point, and one that is not often openly discussed.

I was intrigued by Laura's comment, which I had not seen echoed in the American press. I, therefore, paid particular attention to the overseas news stories about MySpace and Facebook this week.

Yesterday, MySpace launched MySpace TV, a video sharing initiative that will permit users to upload and view video clips in the same way they now do on YouTube. This underscores the fierce rivalry for users that exists among the social networking sites.

The London Times reported on Wednesday that "A recent report by Park Associates, the analysts, found that users of social networking sites are 'chronically unfaithful' with nearly half regularly using more than one site and one in six using three or more."

I was less impressed with a story in The London Times yesterday that trumpeted the headline, "MySpace 'stands to lose top spot by September'."

To support this claim, the reporter Rhys Blakely pointed to a 4.4% dip in visitors to MySpace from April to May in Britain and a less than one percent corresponding dip in US visitors. A ONE MONTH dip.

First of all, I think it is incredibly poor math/science to predict a trend based on one month's data.

Moreover, this dip follows on the heels of that US Army ban on May 14 on the use of MySpace and eleven other social networking sites (not including Facebook). As I said in my comment to Laura, a natural reaction on the part of soldiers and their loved ones will be to shift to a networking site that is permitted by the military.

Out of curiosity, I went looking for data on the numbers of visitors to the social networking websites in May.

On a website called Compete, I found the following for US visitors in the month of May:

Given this data, I seriously doubt whether MySpace is going to lose its top spot in the next three months.

It will, however, be very interesting to see how the demographics of MySpace and Facebook evolve now that both are accepting new accounts from anyone with an email address. Will Facebook lose its exclusivity cachet? Will young people simply open accounts in both places and flip back and forth between the two?

Stay tuned . . .


Maxine said...

The Times and MySpace share an owner, of course. (Rupert Murdoch).

I have just signed up with Facebook because a friend of mind has written an application called bookshare, which I'm enjoying using (you have to sign up to Facebook to use it). Now I am "finding" (or being found by) various friends and colleagues from academia and elsewhere from the past years.
I did try MySpace a while back but was instantly repelled by its commercial nature and constant flashing ads. On Facebook, I just log in and go to bookshare, so I don't see any ads (maybe there are some elsewhere on the site).

One big difference it seems to me is that you can write applications on Facebook but so far as I know you can't on MySpace. Therefore you can have genuine "groups" on Facebook (eg in my case, people sharing, rating and recommending books to each other).

Maya Reynolds said...

Hi, Maxine: Thanks for your comments.

I'm really interested in learning all that I can about this issue.