Back in the days when Friendster was the social networking destination of choice, MySpace -- then a cheeky young upstart -- promoted itself as a different kind of social network, where users were free to engage in commercial activity, and could pimp out their profiles at will. Many users of Friendster had become disgruntled with restrictions imposed on the site, which if they violated, often resulted in having their accounts closed, and so were very willing to embrace the new kid on the block and to encourage others to do the same. We all know what happened next: the site experienced unprecedented grow, and was acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $580 million. Today, MySpace ranks as the number one social networking site in the world.
And as MySpace has grown, so has its eco-system of third-party widgets and add-ons designed to bring additional functionality to the site. But Murdoch and co. aren't too happy seeing other companies profit from MySpace's success -- with YouTube often cited as the biggest offender, which in hindsight, the social networking site says it should have blocked.
MySpace now aggressively cracks down on its eco-system -- often blocking third-party widgets without warning or explanation -- and it's become a huge risk for any web-based startup to rely too heavily on traffic generated from the social networking site (see my post 'Beware the MySpace eco-system'). The MySpace Terms of Service state that the site can block third-party widgets which "engage in commercial activity", though most commonly products are blocked if they compete directly with MySpace's own offerings.
MySpace's abandonment of its laissez faire attitude to commercial activity hasn't gone unnoticed by users. The New York Times in an article titled 'MySpace Restrictions Upset Some Users' reports on one of the site's earliest and most high profile users, Tila Tequila, being unhappy with the change in policy.
"The reason why I am so bummed out about MySpace now is because recently they have been cutting down our freedom and taking away our rights slowly," wrote Tila Tequila, a singer who is one of MySpace’s most popular and visible users, in a blog posting over the weekend. "MySpace will now only allow you to use 'MySpace' things."
In particular, Tequila is upset about the blocking of Hoooka, a music player and store similar to MySpace Music (powered by Sean Fanning's Snowcap). Justin Goldberg, chief executive of Indie911, the company behind Hoooka, responds:
"We find it incredibly ironic and frustrating that a company that has built its assets on the back of its users is turning around and telling people they can’t do anything that violates terms of service."
One solution which I've considered previously, would be for MySpace to introduce a toll for commercial access to its eco-system by third-party web services -- though this is a road MySpace says it has no intention of going down. Whatever the solution, if MySpace continues to block popular third-party widgets then I think it runs the risk of alienating users, and, ultimately, damaging its own interests.