MySpace (remember MySpace?) was brought back to the attention of the interwebs in late June when ol’ Uncle Rupert at NewsCorp sluffed it off to online ad firm Specific Media for $35 Million. That dramatically low purchase price, in light of the $580 Million NewsCorp paid for it in 2005, is the first morsel to chew on in this social soap opera. The second juicy tidbit is that uber-celeb Justin Timberlake wound up holding the ownership stake in MySpace at the end of the deal. Always nice to see a filthy rich superstar still shopping the sale rack.
At this point in time, no one can question Timberlake’s creative talent or his global popularity. Even if his work does not fit your personal taste, his brand power is undeniable. This certainly is a motivation for Specific Media to make him their Top Friend in this venture, and must have them more eager than anyone to discover the answer to the $35 Million question: can Justin Timberlake make MySpace cool again?
From those I’ve polled on the topic over the past week (Path colleagues, friends, smoothie artisans at my fave Jamba Juice on 22nd and 5th Ave), responses have ranged from flat out “No” to “I think Justin is wicked cool, but I don’t know if MySpace even matters anymore.” The general sense that Facebook is superior to MySpace is the primary color of these responses, and rightfully so. The Facebook of today IS superior to any version of MySpace we’ve seen thus far, save for one significant caveat that I think could be the key to MySpace Rehab: Facebook is terrible at music.
For a company initiated by the intent to put the college experience online, Facebook’s paltry efforts to involve music in their user’s social experience is foolish. Yes, they have Pages for musicians/bands, but the design follows the Facebook formula of promotion via social interaction rather than promotion via people listening to the music. Think about it. When was the last time you listened to a song on a Facebook Band Page? Do you even know where the audio player is on your favorite band’s Facebook Page? They’re difficult to find, uninviting to use, and give no data such as total plays and plays today that would fuel the Facebook ethos of “if 15,002 people already think it’s cool, I’ll think it’s cool too.” It’s not that I think Facebook doesn’t realize this. I think they just don’t care. Music is not a priority to them.
MySpace, which was first conceived as a place for music, has never seen a day when they were not superior to Facebook on this front. Their music player still gives the data users and musicians want, it’s still super easy to use, and it still has all the key elements on one page (music player, number of plays, recent activity, number of friends and Top Friends). Their obvious dominance of Facebook in music, paired with Timberlake’s global music/entertainment fame and solid pop-cultural instincts, offers a real opportunity for MySpace to re-snag its swagger. I don’t think that MySpace, even at its future strongest, will top Facebook in daily uniques or number of users. The general social network daily use crown rests on Facebook, and together we bow. I do think, however, that Facebook doesn’t know to do music better than MySpace, and has yet to care to find out. If MySpace focuses on their strength in music and makes it the key message of their rebranding, I think it has a real chance of reestablishing a hold in the industry and beginning the process of regaining the always-coveted Currency of Cool.
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