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"A Place for Friends"

A History of MySpace

MySpace, a multifaceted social networking site, has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. On a typical day, MySpace registers 230,000 new users and has even surpassed Google in terms of traffic. Boasting over 200 million users, MySpace looms over other social networking sites such as Friendster, Xanga, Beboe and, until recently, Facebook. MySpace is not just a social network site, but also a media hosting site that is part chat room, part movie theater, part shopping mall, part bar, and part concert that is open 24 hours, a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year (Illian 2007). In less than three years from its inception, MySpace became the most visited site on the Internet. As the number of users has increased, so have media coverage of MySpace stories, many of which focus on issues self-disclosure, online safety for children, cyber-bullying, and the corporate history of MySpace.

The MySpace Guys

Known as a hard-nosed business man under a laid-back exterior, Chris DeWolf was raised by his parents who were teachers in Portland Oregon. Rather than follow in their footsteps, DeWolf decided to go to business school at the University of Washington and then USC Marshall School of Business. DeWolf became a master of aggressive forms of online marketing, including e-mail advertising and pop-up advertising as an employee of XDrive, a startup company that provided free online storages space for photos, music, and files (Pace 2006). For example, after the Internet bubble burst, he built a site that let people download computer cursors in the form of waving flags, a program that also included software that would monitor their Internet movements and show them pop-up ads. DeWolf, 41, currently serves as MySpace CEO.

Co-founder Tom Anderson, the ubiquitous “Tom-Guy,” is every user’s first friend when they initially log into MySpace. Anderson majored in English and rhetoric at Berkeley and, after playing in various bands, attended film school. Though Anderson lists over 140 million friends on his MySpace profile, according to him, “In person, I don’t have that many friends.... Offline, I have no more than four or five friends.” As the friendly face of the giant MySpace Corporation, Anderson has become a sort of cultural reference. For example, Comedian Lisa Lampanelli joked that a fellow comic was “so unlikable, that on MySpace, Tom won’t even be his friend.” In addition, there are popular t-shirts reading “I have more friends than Tom!” or “Tom is not my friend.” The lead singer of the popular rap/punk group Gym Class Heroes, Travis McCoy, includes a reference to MySpace in the lyrics “My man Tom introduced us, but I was too shy to say hi.” Anderson’s real age became an issue for some users and critics in 2007 when it was revealed that Anderson is actually five years older than he claims. His online profile currently lists his age as 32, but he was actually born on Nov 8, 1970 (Bennett 2007).

Anderson met DeWolf in 2000 when, while deep in debt, he became a temporary product tester for XDrive, the same data storage company where DeWolf was head of sales and marketing. Anderson hated the product and candidly said so. Chris DeWolf was impressed with Anderson and offered him a job.

In 2001, X-Drive went bankrupt in the in the dot-com bubble burst. That year, DeWolf and Anderson formed their own business, called ResponseBase, an “e-mail list broker” that sold lists of e-mail subscribers to other companies for marketing purposes. ResponseBase built its lists mainly from the e-mail addresses of current and former Xdriver users, and the “MySpace” name seems to have evolved from “freedisksspace.com” similar to Xdrive’s initial business plan (Bosworth 2005). In 2002, DeWolf and Anderson sold ReponseBase to eUniverse (now renamed Intermix Media), an online entertainment network and aggressive Internet marketer. eUniverse CEO Brad Greenspan would resign from eUniverse in 2003 after the company was forced to restate its earnings for most of 2002 and 2003 and he was asked to repay a bonus. In fact, in 2005, the now-infamous former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer won a $7.9 million settlement in a lawsuit charging Intermix with using adware, though the company admitted no wrongdoing. Greenspan himself would pay $750,000 to settle charges that he instructed InterMix employees to ensure the adware downloads were hard to remove from computers (Bosworth 2005).

2003: the Birth of MySpace

In light of new strong anti-spam laws, such as the CAN-SPAN Act, DeWolf and Anderson started looking for a new line of work. Both were members of Friendster.com and saw the potential of social networking, especially the combination of traditional social networking with the sort of personal expression enabled by other sites, such as blogs and personal Web pages (Bosworth 2005). DeWolf had actually written a business plan for a community Web site called SiteGeist the previous year, and when he and Anderson approached executives at InterMix, their plan was met with encouragement. DeWolf and Anderson named their new site “MySpace” after DeWolf remembered he had purchased the URL myspace.com a year earlier thinking he would start a Web-hosting company (he used it briefly to sell a motorized scooter called an EScooter made in China for $99).

Though DeWolf and Anderson always had plans to expand their new social network site internationally, MySpace began locally in Southern California and catered to actors, musicians, and artists. In spirit, the site reflected its Southern California roots with its idiosyncratic performers, designers, and cultural hustlers. Its focus on self-expression tapped into what young people were passionate out: expressing themselves, interacting with friends, and consuming popular culture. When MySpace launched in 2003 (using Microsoft SQL server as a database and running on Windows), local bands and club owners (particularly Indie rock bands) created profiles and quickly became MySpace’s primary marketing tool. Eight months after its initial launch, MySpace experienced the “network effect,” an exponential growth of adding “friends” (Bosworth 2005).

Part of the appeal of MySpace was that it is an open site, meaning the it lets users control the page and post nearly whatever they want to post. Each profile was a blank canvas for its owner and, in that sense, the term “MySpace” gives a user “your space” to do whatever he or she wants with it. This freedom coupled with the mistakes of MySpace’s leading competitor, Friendster.com, led to MySpace’s meteoric rise to popularity. For example, the expulsion of bands from Friendster for failing to comply with profile regulations and the rumors that Friendster would adopt a fee-based system led to a rapid migration to MySpace. MySpace embraced both publishing and socializing tools when it mattered, when teens were looking for something even more social than blogs (Magid and Collier 2007).

2004-2005: Exploding Growth

MySpace’s popularity did not go unnoticed by Robert Murdoch, owner of the media giant News Corp Fox Interactive, the parent company of Fox Television Networks and Twentieth Century Fox. Murdoch recognized the huge amount of advertising potential in MySpace and Intermix’s other media sites. InterMix CEO Richard Rosenblatt negotiated the sale of MySpace to News Corp for the now bargain price of $580 million--cash. Greenspan, former CEO of eUniverse, claimed that InterMix’s principle stockholders had rushed to dump their shares during the course of Spitzer’s investigation and sold InterMix to Murdoch’s News Corp at a much lower price while pocketing millions of dollars in stock options.

DeWolf and Anderson also expressed concerns that the sell-off to a corporate environment--especially to News Corp, which had a conservative slant that would dilute the spirit of their anti-authoritarian, youth-based site. In addition, though Anderson and Dewolf were assured they would not lose control over their company, News Corp announced MySpace was moving from laid-back Santa Monica to Beverly Hills to consolidate its Internet businesses. Though initially opposed to the move, Anderson and DeWolf soon found they had more money to pursue their interests, such as new Internet sites, partnerships with eBay and Amazon, MySpace Spots, building MySpace sports, and an ad sales force (Bosworth 2005).

2006-2008: Growing Pains

From 2005-2006, user profiles jumped from 2 million to 80 million. With the immense popularity of MySpace, serious safety issues began to plague the popular site. Some critics felt that it would be relatively easy to reconstruct social security numbers using information in profiles, such as hometown and date of birth. The site is also very open to frank and provocative discussions, images, and links; Playboy, for example, has a profile page and actively recruits members to pose in the magazine. Nor does it object to Jenna Jameson, a porn star, from maintaining a profile with links to her hard-core Web site.

However, in response to increasing sexual predators and pedophiles on the site, DeWolf announced plans to improve the security features of MySpace to prevent underage teens from accessing it as readily and imposing stronger measures against misuse of the site for criminal purposes (Krantz). In addition, DeWolf notes that every single image (17 million per day) uploaded to the site is screened by actual people at MySpace.

2008: Where Is MySpace Headed?

While MySpace has become nearly ubiquitous in the United States, there are hints of a slowdown in 2008. For example, while MySpace still has more users in the U.S than Facebook (almost twice as many visitors), Facebook surpassed MySpace internationally (116.4 million vs. MySpace’s 115.7 million). In addition, nearly a third of MySpace revenues come from a three-year deal with Google (to whom MySpace sold YouTube), in which Google would provide ad and search services in return for an assurance of $900 million over a three-year period. Google, however, has hinted that it has not seen a decent return on its end of the deal (Williams 2008).

The extent of ad revenue potential in a social network site is still up for debate, but MySpace (which may be the first social network site to be controlled by experienced mass media marketers) is hoping to increase its ad revenue by integrating advertisers into the site’s web of relationships (Corbin 2008). For example, MySpace allows advertisers to set up their own profiles and build a community around their brand. Users can be a “friend” of Toyota, a particular detergent, or a new movie the same way they can become a “friend” to a person.

DeWolf and Anderson are also trying to shed MySpace’s reputation as a media platform for teens and instead make MySpace a gateway where everyone can access the Internet from communicating, to sharing pictures, to listening to music, to watching TV. Whether they succeed or not, MySpace has already changed the way we communicate, the way we structure our social reality, and how we access and interpret popular culture. While traditional mediums such as MTV merely deliver material, MySpace allows users to search their own channels and go where they want to go and, in doing so, it continues to push technology into new and exciting territories.

-- Posted August 14, 2008

References

Bennett.

Bosworth, Martin H. April 8, 2005. "What’s Inside MySpace.com?" ConsumerAffairs.com. http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/03/myspace_inside.html. Retrieved July 15, 2008.

Corbin, Kenneth. July 25, 2008. "Microsoft Searches for Revenue with Facebook." InternetNews.com. http://www.internetnews.com/ec-news/article.php/3761386/. Retrieved July 15, 2008.

Hansel, Saul. April 23, 2008. "For MySpace, Making Friends was Easy. Big Prophet is Tougher." NewYorkTimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/23/business/yourmoney/23myspace.html. Retrieved July 15, 2008.

Hornig, Frank. Jan. 15, 2007. "We Have Replaced MTV." SpiegalOnlineInternational.com. http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,459685,00.html. Retrieved July 15, 2008.

Illian, Jason. 2007. MySpace. MyKids. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.

Kelsey, Candice M. 2007. Generation MySpace: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence. New York, NY: Marlowe & Company.

Krantz, Matt. "The Guys Behind MySpace.com." USAToday.com. http://usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-02-12-myspace-usat_x.htm. Retrieved on July 15, 2008.

Magid, Larry and Anne Collier. 2007. MySpace Unraveled. Berkeley, CA: PeachPit Press.

Pace, Natalie. Jan 4, 2006. "Q&A: MySpace Founders Chris DeWolf and Tom Anderson." Forbes.com. http://forbes.com/2006/01/04/myspace-dewolfe-anderson-cx_np_0104myspace.html. Retrieved July 15, 2008.