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February 5, 2009

MySpace Founders Comment On Social Media Arms Race

Was settling in to relax a bit on the couch last night, after a long day of blog posts, tweets and friending, when, in my nightly channel surf, I came across Charlie Rose interviewing this guy who screamed Silicon Valley: boyish good looks, a J. Crew-style sweatshirt, and graying hair that hadn’t been combed since he got out of bed or the shower.

Turned out it was Chris DeWolfe of MySpace, who, with his even more boyish co-founder, Tom Anderson, was being interviewed by Rose. A few statements by DeWolfe and Anderson stood out:

  • They view their competitors, at least in terms of ad revenue, as being Yahoo and MSN, not Facebook.
  • They view Facebook as being a more utilitarian communications tool, and MySpace as “more about culture and creativity and expression,” per Anderson.
  • They pooh-pooh suggestions by people such as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch that Facebook will surpass MySpace in unique users by January of next year. (Note: Though it wasn’t specified in the interview, Arrington was talking about Facebook surpassing MySpace in the U.S.)

Interesting observations, these, as it has become popular, at least in the social-networking circles in which many of you travel, to declare MySpace over and Facebook the victor. (Yeah, I’m guilty of it, too.) We do this even though Facebook hasn’t reached MySpace’s critical mass in terms of users or revenue.

Here are my thoughts about what DeWolfe and Anderson said:

  • That the portal’s true competitors are Yahoo and MSN: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or five minutes on MySpace or Facebook, to figure out that if Facebook is the Upper East Side, MySpace is Times Square. Ads are everywhere. What’s interesting about this view of their competitive set is what DeWolfe and Anderson didn’t say. While much of the social media world is concerned about embedding marketing into social media in ways that make marketing a welcome part of the social stream, that isn’t as much of a concern for these guys. The big concern, said Anderson, is getting “the advertising world to understand that … what we have is not that different from what Yahoo has, which is a big audience of people.” Are they wrong? Or are the rest of us so hung up on user experience that making money in social networking has become viewed as a bad thing?
  • Facebook as more of a communications tool: When I look at my Facebook usage — which may, or may not, be typical — it’s true that it is primarily concerned with various forms of communication: posting links, tossing up status updates and emailing within Facebook. MySpace does host massive amounts of audio and video — I could throw that “Times Square” analogy back in here — but I’m not sure I agree with Anderson’s contention that MySpace is “more focused on the whole world and all the things that people are interested in” rather than just being a people-to-people communications device. If you want to find a way to connect with your passions, Facebook is also a great place to do it.
  • On Facebook surpassing MySpace by January 2010: “No. We’re focused on obviously growing our user base, which we are,” said DeWolfe. “Year-over-year our unique users are way up, our engagement is up 40%, number of minutes spent on the site is 50% more than our nearest competitor. ” (In reply to a question by Rose, DeWolfe added that MySpace users spend an average of 400 minutes per month on the site.) He didn’t cite his sources, but one reason those stats may sound odd is that many of us saw a post Mashable did in December featuring U.S.-only numbers from Nielsen Online. It’s very likely DeWolfe was quoting global numbers. Meanwhile, the Mashable numbers showed that, as of November, average time spent on MySpace per month declined in the last year by 23%, to 1 hour and 52 minutes. It also showed Facebook’s domestic uniques going up 116%, to 47 million, while MySpace’s went up 3%, to 59 million. ComScore’s number paint a very different picture for MySpace, showing, as of December, that uniques are up 10% year-over-year and total minutes spent on the site are up 42%. There’s much more data drilling to be done here to figure out what is really going on.

As I was writing this column, the full interview was posted here at I’d suggest you take 32 minutes and stream it, then come back and comment here, of course. In the social networks arms race, it’s fuel for thought.

Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. She currently writes daily about advertising on her blog, You can reach her via email at, follow her on Twitter at cpealet, or friend her on Facebook at Catharine P. Taylor.