MySpace, the 100 pound guerrilla of social networking, is at it again -- this time blocking Photobucket videos from being embedded on the site. No word yet from News Corp. as to the reason why; though Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch is speculating that it may be because Photobucket is looking for a buyer. Were the photo and video sharing service to fall into the hands of one of MySpace's main competitors -- say Google or another big media company -- for Murdoch et al. it would be like YouTube all over again.
A case of attack being the best form of defense? Only I think this could turn out to be more like friendly fire. MySpace has grown so dominant, in such a relatively short space in time, it's forgotten an important part of what made it successful in the first place. Compared to the those that proceeded it -- here I'm thinking, in particular, of Friendster -- and those that came after, MySpace has always been like the wild west of social networks. Grab a piece of MySpace land and build whatever you like on it; for fun or for profit. This benefited users, through choice and flexibility (no matter how ugly those pimped out pages can be), and also created an eco-system of service providers -- which combined, helped fuel the sites rapid growth.
From Photobucket's official blog:
MySpace became successful because of the creativity of you, its users, and because it offered a forum for self-expression. By severely restricting this freedom, MySpace is showing that it considers you as a commodity which it can treat as it sees fit.
So now that News Corp. is abandoning the free market, and acting like a belligerent dictator -- how long before its users decide to leave town?
As Tony Hung points out, the site's huge popularity creates its own kind of lock-in. Like most of the leading social networks, MySpace offers a lack of data portability, but, more crucially, network effects means that it "only makes sense to move if *everyone* moves".
However, just as a social network can experience a surge in growth upon reaching a network effect tipping point, history tells us that the same can happen on the way down. Therefore, I think MySpace is playing a very risky game.
Related post: Is MySpace’s widget policy upsetting users?