Facebook and MySpace are like chalk 'n' cheese

Facebook and MySpace are like chalk 'n' cheese

Summary: Broadly speaking the two sites cater for different demographics, solve different problems, and in terms of strategy -- with Facebook's new platform -- couldn't be further apart. Yet they both face the same challenge: making money.


With talk of Rupert Murdoch attempting to 'offload' MySpace to Yahoo in return for a 25% stake in the company, there's inevitably been another round of discussion in the tech media comparing Facebook to MySpace. Not only is Facebook growing at a faster rate than MySpace -- though as TechCrunch points out, MySpace is still growing fast and Facebook has a long way to go before catching up -- it was Yahoo that tried and failed to buy Facebook last year.

However, the problem when trying to predict a winner between the two sites is it's like comparing chalk 'n' cheese. Broadly speaking they cater for different demographics, solve different problems, and in terms of strategy -- with Facebook's new platform -- couldn't be further apart.

Here are some of my thoughts and observations which might help to clear up the confusion, and explain why I think we have to be careful when comparing the two, and that the real question is how each site will turn growth into revenue.

Facebook is the new social networking darling.

This one is true. Facebook is eating up lots of press coverage, first amongst the tech crowd and then mainstream media. It was the same for MySpace over the last 18 months or so. First thing to note, the stories are different. MySpace was reported as this new crazy phenomenon for teens, with reporters gushing at its growth whilst in the same breath admitting to not quite getting it. We also had plenty of moral panic type articles based on concerns about young people's safety on the site. Another important element of the story was that MySpace represents a major challenge to the music industry, as well as a new way to market to young people. The problem with a lot of the MySpace coverage is that the people that wrote the stories weren't part of the site's natural user-base. This is where Facebook has a major advantage. Tech writers and other parts of the media fit the Facebook demographic perfectly -- and -- in all my time writing about MySpace I've only ever received a couple of friend invites, compared to one or two a week on Facebook since I signed up. It's easy to mistake personal experience for a wider trend, and while we know that Facebook is growing rapidly, if I'd used personal invites as a measurement, I'd think that MySpace had never got off the ground.

A second reason for Facebook's sudden popularity amongst the tech press is that what they are doing with Facebook platform is very interesting from a tech and business point of view. Way cooler than anything over at MySpace. The issues at stake: third party developers, open vs closed, monetization, APIs -- are all things that get us pundits excited. When was the last time you could say the same about MySpace (more acquisitions, yawn!).

Different demographics / different solutions

This one is harder to nail because feature-wise the sites have plenty of overlap, and some users will be members of both. But essentially I see the two giants generally catering for the needs of different demographics -- hence their distinct differences in terms of layout and functionality.

Writing in today's Guardian newspaper, Richard Wray came up with a great analogy:

Facebook, like most internet successes, taps into innate real life traits - curiosity, sociability and sharing. If MySpace is as messy and chaotic as a teenager's bedroom, Facebook is the frenzied networking of a cocktail party, delivering an unending reel of "news" on the lives of your friends.

A teenager's bedroom, plastered with posters (and brands) and with continuous background music, sounds a lot like a MySpace profile. Add into the room a teenager or two who are always on the phone or text messaging friends about gossip or the hottest new band -- and very generally speaking, you've nailed much of the appeal of MySpace. The fact that teenagers are increasingly using the site's internal messaging system over email says it all. Additionally, those posters on the wall can be other user's profiles, which include bands and brands vying for wall space.

In contrast, Facebook is much more popular amongst college students and graduates/professionals (due to it's University roots). The site's design is far less customizable -- you can't decorate your room. Instead, any customization is about deciding what functionality to include. This is even more so now that third parties can set-up-shop on the site and add new features which fulfill every possible need. I logged into Facebook today to accept a few friend requests, and noticed a professional networking event, that one of my contacts was looking to hire, and another had a rather nice laptop for sale. Getting that info took seconds due to Facebook's controlled and efficient interface. Completely different to MySpace.

Who will make the most money?

This is where I welcome comparisons because it is literally the billion dollar question. If we accept that the two sites aren't really in competition for users -- presuming that MySpace can keep attracting a new generation of teens -- there is still the issue of which user base and which strategy will be the most successful in terms of future revenue.

Both sites rely on advertising revenue (though they have the potential to make money through e-commerce). The problem is that eyeballs don't simply translate into ad click-throughs as Facebook knows too well. MySpace's reaction has been to bombard its site with -- at times -- intrusive ads, which hasn't gone unnoticed.

Therefore, I think the challenge both sites face is not who will out grow the other, but how they can convert their dominant positions in arguably two different markets, into a sustainable cash cow.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Good article

    Thanks for the Facebook article. I agree that Myspace is a mess compared to facebook. I have a myspace page but getting rid of it for facebook. First, Myspace draws this strange teenager crowd made up of 'look at how cool I am' web pages looking for votes and 'friends'. Yuck and yawn.

    It seems Facebook draws those with some tendency of mature behavior. That is more my speed.
  • right on!

    The bit about MySpace being like a teenager's messy bedroom is so perfect. So make that cheese, [u]bleu[/u] cheese - I always wonder what is growing in a teen's room...
  • Nice article

    It's nice to see people in the tech media openly admit that while they're not in the MySpace demographic, they understand why the site has appeal to a large number of people. So many times I feel like the tech media is woefully out of touch with the reality of the massive number of non-techie web users when trumpeting about the latest Web 2.0 sites.

    That's why I'd be curious to see how a Yahoo acquisition of MySpace would work out. Yahoo has the chops to add some more Facebook-like functionality and design elements to MySpace. But then again, that might cut against the very core of what the whole community's all about.
  • VIRB-- Check It Out

    I can't believe nobody's switching to VIRB, it is an online community with features such as a plugin for iTunes (virbTunes) that will play your Recently Played playlist directlo on your VIRB and integration with Flickr & the capability of playing widescreen video. It is also FULLY customizable and the customization process is 100 times more user friendly than that of MySpace for those who don't have HTML & CSS experience, HOWEVER, if you do have CSS & HTML knowledge, you can get your VIRB profile to look like a professional website. http://www.virb.com check it out!
  • How do they measure success?

    How do Facebook and MySpace measure success? By the total number of people
    who ever have registered with them? If traditional media measured their success
    that way, the New York Times or Forbes would tout twice as much or more the
    number of subscribers.

    If Murdoch offloads MySpace, it will remain prime space to show ads for other
    News Corp products.

    I think the bigger question is what type of advertising will survive on social
    networking sites. Contextual ads or low CPX stuff that is part of an ad network.
    Although if I were running a company that consolidates college loan and other
    debt, I would certainly test ads on MySpace and Facebook. After all, how much
    disposable income do their users have?

    Rob Y.
  • As things change...

    I wonder how MySpace will change in order to keep the teens as they grow up? After all, it's easier to keep customers than to get new ones.

    Perhaps they will spawn a MyCube for office folks, or a more generic MyWorkplace. But then, who wants to bring work home with them! ;-)

    And will Facebook look to attract college preps, who might be more orderly minded?

    Or maybe the two will keep to their current demographic appeal. However, I sincerely doubt that.

  • Facebook/MySpace

    Having used both, I find MySpace more appealing. The two big drawbacks to the site are spam and "glitches", both of which are probably due to the volume of the site. Facebook would almost certainly run into the same type of problems were they to grow to that level. I am already starting to get the spam-like friend requests on Facebook.

    The fact that MySpace is more customizable is the perhaps the biggest reason in its favor. You are creating an online identity on these sites. This might result in the "messy room" analogy for a lot of pages but severely limiting the ability to customize one's identity is a big minus that I think would hold true for both young and old users.
  • MySpace/FAcebook

    Just posted the link to the article to Facebook. Excellent and very perceptive analysis
  • MySpace is growing out of control

    I personally believe that MySpace is growing out of control. It?s loosing its focus, its purpose and its usability.

    In the beginning MySpace was something that we hadn?t witnessed before on such a massive scale, within a few clicks I could be ?browsing? random strangers on the other side of the planet, looking at their photos, reading their profiles and basically investigating them without reason or recourse? normally this type of behavior will quickly land someone in jail.

    Hence it was only a matter of time before the vast majority realized that rather than ?expressing themselves?, they were more akin to slabs of beef hanging in a London meat market. Behavioral changes are already taking place on MySpace, a lot more profiles now are either set to ?private? or have private photos. These are members who have now matured in terms of online networking and on a wider perspective reflect this general behavioral change. Bear in mind that the natural progression from a private profile is a migration to an entirely private social site such as Facebook?

    So if we assume that users migrate to Facebook from MySpace once they reach online social maturity, then it is obvious that it is only a matter of time before Facebook outgrows MySpace.

    Perhaps Fox lacks the ability and the technological infrastructure to grow MySpace out of its immaturity; this isn?t inconceivable for a web giant like Yahoo though?