It must be that time of year again. MySpace — now “Myspace” — is making headlines by talking about how it is reinventing itself in order to compete better with Facebook. We’ve heard this one before.
Last time, Myspace planned to make its most potentially influential users into star curators of sorts, in the hope that people would visit their tastemaking friends’ pages to discover music and other media. This time it plans to do the same, as is being reported everywhere, in a global rollout that will continue into November.
The only real difference is that this time around, they say they’re doing it to target “Generation Y,” which is hardly a stunning strategy. What social media site wouldn’t want those users?
Myspace CEO Mike Jones nonetheless claimed in a Wednesday statement that this represents a new direction for the beleaguered social network, a division of News Corp. that recently boasted about losing “below $100 million per year,” and whose traffic continues to decline as Facebook’s increases:
“We know you’re all about entertainment,” wrote the exec. “Not only do you love discovering new bands, watching exclusive movie trailers and clips, keeping up with your favorite celebrities, and playing games, but you like to share these experiences with your friends and likeminded people. Of course, you want to be able to do all this online, on your phone, and at events like Secret Shows. We call this social entertainment. Everything about the new Myspace – from the layout and design, to the color scheme, and even our logo — has been remade to deliver the best social entertainment experiences.”
There you have it: This is a cosmetic redesign masquerading as a cosmic “change in direction” — and worse still, it’s a change in direction we’ve seen “MySpace” claim to make in the past, with negligible effect on its declining fortunes. The slight tweak of putting your friends’ activities in a prominent news stream and a new logo hardly represent a stroke of genius in this socially-networked day and age.
Myspace keeps wanting to be Facebook. It should double down on being MySpace instead.
Rather than a Facebook facelift, Myspace needs to face up to the facts: the main reason people use it these days is the same reason they’ve always used it: to hear, in seconds, what just about any band sounds like — and maybe, if they’re really interested, what they look like. Myspace should bottle that “find out what a band sounds like right now” experience into hundreds, thousands, or better still millions of mobile apps and an API with which other app and web developers could access the millions of songs on Myspace band pages.
In other words, Myspace should leverage the one thing it has that no one else does: all of that independent music, free for the sampling, which the bands put there themselves. After the fall of MP3.com, only MySpace has succeeded to date in convincing so many bands to upload their own music. Yet the site’s philosophy now, and for a while now, has been to try to ape Facebook. It’s too late for that.
To be fair, the Myspace CEO says this redesign is only the beginning and that mobile apps for iPhone and Android are on the way. So it’s not too late to make band apps the cornerstone of the new Myspace. If I were king, here’s what I would do with Myspace — and what the site probably should have done a long time ago:
1. Contact every band with music on their Myspace artist page with a new user agreement allowing Myspace to package their songs — or some of their songs — into music apps, offering them a share of revenue based on playback. Not everyone checks their email for this type of thing, so send out several emails, cross-referencing contact information against SoundExchange’s database, the way they did earlier this year.
2. Offer every single band on Myspace the chance to generate smartphone apps automatically, using the songs, images, blog posts and other data on their Myspace pages. Allow them to customize their apps or leave them as they stand, as mere reflections of the artist’s Myspace pages. Over two years after speculation that iPhone apps would become the next Myspace page, the service has yet to embrace an opportunity that is clearly bigger now than it was then.
3. Release APIs (roughly speaking, technology that allows programs to grab stuff from other companies’ databases) so that app developers can include bands songs, again, with a new user agreement that involves royalty sharing when an artist’s songs are played within an app. I’m not talking about the APIs Myspace already has, because those don’t permit access to all of the great music on Myspace, but about a new API that would grant access to all of unique music within third-party apps for tracking tours, finding music in a specific city, identifying music (a la Shazam), and so on.
App developers need songs. Artists need an easy, scaleable way to release artist apps. Myspace can make all of that happen, yet it keeps insisting on becoming a slightly better third-rate version of Facebook.
Note that if Myspace were to embrace the massive music app opportunity that has been staring it in the face for over two years, all of the indie bands that Myspace has traditionally refused to share revenue with would start to see some money as a result of people accessing the music on their band pages. Myspace itself would have new relevance, as the place to sample music on any platform, and as the platform that made it easiest for artists to release their music, tourdates, blogs, videos and so on within a neat app for any platform that can run apps (computer, smartphone, tablet, television, set-top box, game console, and eventually car).
Evolver.fm contacted Myspace and a prominent digital music analyst this morning to see what they have to say about this idea, and will post updates if we hear back. For now, here’s a video introducing Myspace’s new features (which so far seem to be more about rehashing the site’s old plan and importing real-time trend features from Twitter and Facebook than about taking advantage of Myspace’s greatest asset: artist pages that could easily become millions of music apps).
Update, 10/28/10 12:54pm ET: Scott Matthews pointed out, correctly, that Apple would need to approve such apps for the App Store (apps on Android and other platforms would need no such approval). However, an iLike experiment last summer proved that Apple would approve hundreds of automatically-generated apps for distribution in iTunes.