July 3rd, 2011
10:57 PM GMT
(CNN) – Evolve or die. That’s Darwin’s basic tenet. Failure to adapt to change dooms a living organism to death. In the virtual world of online social networking, the same holds true.
Since it came online in 2004, Facebook has adapted quickest and best. Popularity and profitability have followed: it lays claim to more than half a billion users while a 2012 IPO may value it at more than $100 billion. That’s powered up Facebook to barrel like a juggernaut through online pioneer Friendster and same-niche competitor MySpace, leaving them flattened in its wake.
But they haven’t flat-lined – at least not yet. And in the past few days, we’ve actually seen some twitching in those two online names that you had all but forgotten. But are their moves resurrection signs or merely reflex jerks before rigor mortis? Let’s take a look at what’s recently happened.
Friendster, Est. 2002
The patriarch of online social networking sites as you knew it – if you knew it at all – is no more. If you were a user like me then you would have received an e-mail from Ganesh Kumar Bangah this past weekend. The Malaysian CEO of MOL bought Friendster from its U.S. founders in 2009 for a rumored $26 million. In his weekend letter, he explained the site’s new course of evolution:
“Friendster is in a unique position to take advantage on (sic) the growth of social gaming…that enables its users to create multiple avatars, play games and enjoy rewards.”
So to survive, Friendster is focusing on a social networking niche that stresses play. Its website now advertises avatars and rewards as opposed to those general ‘friendlists’ and recommendations. And in an ironic adaptation for continuance, you can now sign on to the new Friendster using Facebook.
MySpace, Est. 2003
Will star power breathe new life into this dead space? Its CEO Tim Vanderhook hopes so. The ubiquitous Justin Timberlake of boy band ‘N Sync, sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live and Hollywood movie "The Social Network" is now fronting a takeover of this failing Facebook competitor by teaming up with Specific Media.
Last Wednesday, News Corp sold MySpace to the digital media company for a mere $35 million. In 2005 News Corp had paid a reported $580 million. That’s a 94% drop in sale price. And just after the deal was inked, Specific Media laid off more than half of MySpace’s staff. According to CNET.com, two years ago, MySpace had about 1400 employees. Today it has about 225. That’s a loss of 84% of its workforce.
So how will Timberlake be able to bring sexy back to a skinny, near-lifeless corpse of a site? While Friendster is gravitating to games, MySpace is making a run to music. Says Timberlake:
“There’s a need for a place where fans can go to interact with their favorite entertainers, listen to music, watch videos, share and discover cool stuff and just connect. Myspace has the potential to be that place…art is inspired by people and vice versa, so there’s a natural social component to entertainment.”
There’s also a natural social component to criticism. Industry analysts are seriously questioning Timberlake’s business savvy.
Looking ahead, is it simply too late for Friendster and MySpace to evolve after being bashed by the Facebook juggernaut? Is Friendster’s evolution to the gaming industry a good move? And will Justin Timberlake be crying himself a river a year from now?
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