New MySpace Offers Possible Lesson for Facebook: Ponding

There’s been a good bit of buzz the last couple of days about the radical restyling of the long-dormant MySpace social network. Virtually all of the conversation has centered on the graphical and user experience aspects of the upgrade. And I have to say, the redesign is quite impressive, though not very original.

But an aspect of MySpace that gets only peripheral attention will be the reason the attempt to resuscitate the once-high-flying site and brand: its focus on a single audience.

The new MySpace is focused so clearly and intently on music and entertainment that it is completely off-putting to anyone who would think about using MySpace as a more general replacement for, say, FaceBook. Whether this was a strategic or tactical decision on the part of the MySpace re-founders (including, apparently, Justin Timberlake) isn’t clear. But it is wise in either case.

Back in the very early 2000’s, I founded and ran an online community called WeTalk Networks. Our first public site was WeTalkSports. We didn’t get a second round when the Dot-Com Bubble burst so we never got a real chance to prove my thesis, which I called “ponding.” My belief was — and is — that any community (what we used to call social networks) runs out of steam when it gets so large and so broadly purposed that the noise level begins to outweigh the value of membership.

I believe Facebook is just beginning to see the effect of this phenomenon and that it will greatly accelerate in coming months. Large communities want to organically sub-divide into specialized groups which can greatly reduce the noise level (or at least control it) and enjoy a closer relationship with folks who have more in common with one another. Thus at WeTalkSports, members could start out in the sports pond, then self-migrate (explicitly or via adaptive analysis by the software or both) to football, then NFL, then NFC, then the San Francisco 49ers. I called this “ponding” and it got a bit of attention at the time.

So MySpace appears to be starting out with a large pond of music and entertainment fans, which is already a significant reduction from Facebook’s “everybody” pond. Over time, it will be interesting to see how they implement the notion of ponding within their big pond, if they do. Should they choose to take that route to growth, I suspect they may become the first online property to recover from near-annihilation.


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