Being a slightly older technology enthusiast (geek?) - I'm not Gen Y - I've seen way too many of my non-technology friends create Facebook profiles in the past few months. None would ever have considered creating a MySpace profile, so there's something in Facebook that's "grounded" enough for a 30-50 something adult to want to put in the effort. Now, most of my friends in this age group, especially business colleagues, have a LinkedIn profile, and probably some sort of default Plaxo profile. These are business tools, and make life a bit easier by not having to maintain an address book or a stack of business cards, so its a lot easier to see how both could save a lot of time. But Facebook? It could be a trend or a could just be the top of the hype cycle - how many of these people will continue to use it on a regular basis in 2, 5, 8 months? That remains to be seen, but these older folks are driving FB growth today, alongside newly minted college kids.
MySpace has alienated this group either by design or by accident. And high schoolers are now creating profiles on both networks - one for friends, one for family. Anyone making it to college simply must move to Facebook. They might continue both, but from what I've seen, they maintain MySpace for their friends back home, and build their future in Facebook.
Here are some of the key differences in why the older generation (30 is old?) feels like Facebook is right for them and MySpace just isn't:
- Use of real identity - user names are for entertainment, real names are serious
- Granular control over privacy and information - even for friends and friends of friends
- Clean design - it just looks more professional. Although the new MySpace layout is much much better, it's still clunky.
- Pictures - pictures seem to be driving tons of Facebook activity - more than any single photo sharing site.
- Initial focus on college students, not high school. College students are more serious? More mature? No, I think college students are compelled to have a Facebook profile. It's so closely linked with their campus identity - belonging to The Network - that there are very few that don't.
- At the root of this, it seems that Facebook is grounded in the real-world. It takes offline activities and friends into online and mobile. MySpace is all about online friends and doing things online - it has very little bearing or relevance in a user's offline world.
Facebook brings our offline worlds online - real names, real geographic locations, real friends. MySpace is not really about your real friends, it's about making new friends or connecting with a band that's in another country, or watching videos. It's about entertainment. Facebook users connect to family members to stay in touch, to share pictures, videos, and news. MySpace users don't have this same need or desire - it's escapism and entertainment as much as it is socializing.
I do believe that this "grounding" is a trend with all social networks. Facebook will continue to move in the offline direction - enabling more real-world groups to organize online - with Events, Groups and future functions. FB could just about eliminate LinkedIn with a simple migration function and by adding a Degrees of Separation-type app and/or an "blind introduction" app (more on this later). Right now, they're pretty focused on keeping the site up with the massive amount of traffic, but this is the trend - organizing offline activities online. Something that is useful, saves time, and compliments somebody's real life instead of adding to it. That's what computers really were built for, isn't it?
What's going to happen to MySpace? The company has been adding some innovative entertainment to get more traffic (and try to monetize) with the launch of MySpace Music. I'm sure this was no easy feat pulling together artists and distributors, and it probably took a ton of resources to get it off the ground. But, to drive increased registrations and social pageviews, the only option is to become more of a real-world compliment - to expand to a more mature audience and to make MySpace ageless - so when middle and highschoolers hit college or jobs, they don't feel like they must create a Facebook profile. MySpace could keep users from "defecting" as they get older, but the company needs a network that's appropriate in form and function for connecting with families and business contacts. Without a detailed user segment ion analysis, here are a few ideas:
- Ability to have one or more version of a profile - one for friends, business, and one for family - to keep all aspects of life centered, but appropriate for different audiences.
- Build out photo-sharing. That's driving FB, take it a step farther. Integrate photos with Groups and how about building in a Kodak gallery to get photos developed after they're uploaded? Get the whole supply chain in there.
- Add more granular privacy to enable a wider variety of "friend-types" and profile depth
- Build LinkedIn-like degrees of separation - this could really trump Facebook
- Enabling really great group functionality - private and semi-private group centers that are truly useful with calendaring, announcements, media sharing, listserves, membership control (membership revenue management!) and page customization. Maybe buying something like Meet-Up. If a real-world group uses MySpace for veryday communications and registration is required, that will drive growth.
- There's no reason MySpace can't include Ning-like walled garden functions and make it better. Ning is being used to create mini-networks to organize real groups. As networks go, Ning stinks, but it's definitely filling a niche.
- Become verticalized - build on top of the social network and enable users to participate in vertical discussions. Groups start to do this, but are so functionally limited. Vertical discussions elevate the site - making friends is cool but having discussions and finding people with similar passions and opinions is bonding.
- Vertical content should also help with advertising, where people are more likely to be searching for information or services in context.
- Seriously promote their iPhone app to keep users engaged all the time. Making the platform mobile is critical in keeping up user engagement. The more touchpoints, the harder it is to leave.
- Enhance the friend feed (and buy some very social users) with Twitter.
- Make a big commitment internationally - non-US markets are still open (China anyone?), but each one must be attacked aggressively and specifically. Translating isn't enough - other cultures are picky, finicky and want local, local local - built just for them.
- Keep the cool factor. MySpace can't let itself fall out of cool, it must be constantly reinventing on the network side. The site has a real opportunity to be cooler and have a broader audience than Facebook since its users start at an earlier age, but balancing "cool" for young kids and "useful" for everyone else is a balancing act.
Adding more entertainment is great, but the core of the "social" part of MySpace must be moving faster than Facebook or the balance of power will change - quickly. Right now, based on the aggregate numbers, MySpace seems to have stalled. Whoever adapts the most quickly to the real needs of real people as they grow up and go through life transformations will stay on top.