The Space of MySpace

In his Wall Street Journal column, "Portals," Lee Gomes reviews the space of MySpace. (Paid subscription may be required to veiw the full article.)

VarsityWorld now has 250,000 users; the head counts at the others range from 50,000 for Imeem to three million for Tagged. MySpace has 70 million, and the kicker is that there is no universal agreement on how it got to be that big, a fact that weighs heavily on its challengers. Many people believe it simply had the good fortune of being in the right place when the youth Zeitgeist zigged in its direction instead of zagging in another.

To this, we can add information regarding other "social" networks on the web, e.g. eBay and Skype. I'm not quite sure how large eBay's social network is. This weekend's Financial Times marks Skype's social network at 100 million. Similar networks exist for instant messsaging, mobile communications (voice and messaging) and traditional telecommunications.

Of course, the mystery of how networks grow has puzzled many but, intuitively, it should be easy to see that once a network proves (or is perceived) to be large, it attracts all kinds of additional members who want to benefit from its size. The value of a network increases as more end points join the network.

In a social network, there is another twist. Not only the number of end points but also the quality and diversity of the end points produce a multiplicative effect in the value of the network.

Once a network reaches a critical size and grows large, it will keep growing.

In social networks, what adds value to a network is its social cohesion, diversity and adaptability.

The whim of youthful tastes actually will play an enormous role in deciding the fate of MySpace and its next challenger. But no one can admit "Let's hope we get lucky" is the company business plan. All of the MySpace challengers, then, have a Plan B: a strategy.

In the full article Gomes reports on his interviews with VarsityWorld, Tagged, Imeem and Tagworld representatives about how they plan to break the spell of MySpace. (He also mentions Facebook. Apparently, Imeem requires some locally installed software.)

A couple of people have pointed me to their MySpace sites, and I have found most of them quite wanting. However, in a time when teenagers and the young spend hours and hours in front of their computer screens, this sort of cyber-space "community" brings a kind of playful ease to identity and persence.

Strikingly, in majority of cases people still rely on their physical experience in the real-world to fill their personal cyber-spaces. Without the physical experience, little meaning will be left to share.

To all Cyber-Spacy spacers (I'm coining new phrases here), if they can find the time away from their "space" building activities to read 100 pages of rather easy material on the limits of their efforts, I would recommend Dreyfus' On the Internet, or some of his articles, like the one on how Kierkegaard would have seen the Internet.

In the long run, it seems there will be some room, even in this space, to come up with some really cool applications, i.e. the "next thing" after blogging, which makes space building easier.

By the way, browsing through some of these "social" cyber-spaces, I ran into an interesting VarsityWorld video called "Driven". You should be able to find it through a search on VarsityWorld's user-careated videos. Artists will be a direct beneficiary of these "social" networks, which provide another way to distribute creative work.

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