Media freak-out: The beginning of the end for MySpace?
I hold the unpopular opinion that despite its current exponential growth, MySpace is nearing the peak of a bell curve that will eventually dip down into obsolescence. Once Intermix (MySpace's parent company) was bought out by mega-media conglomerate News Corp (aka Fox), I felt content in knowing my opinion was becoming fact.
After reading this Wall Street Journal article, I believe we're now witnessing what may be the beginning of the end for MySpace. There are many reasons to be apocalyptic about the social networking giant, but the biggest one is highlighted in this passage:
MySpace has become the focus of criticism from authorities, teachers and parents that children are exposed to risqué content and are preyed upon by sexual predators who meet them on the site. Such episodes aren't unique to MySpace, but the site stands out because of its size -- 54 million registered users, with about 19% of monthly users under 17, according to comScore
In response, News Corp. is scrambling to make MySpace a safer place for young people. News Corp. plans to appoint a "safety czar" to oversee the site, launch an education campaign that may include letters to schools and public-service announcements to encourage children not to reveal their contact information.
Do a Google News search on MySpace and you'll see the crisis reaching a fever pitch.
This recent wave of bad press for MySpace is the equivalent of a parent finding and reading their child's journal. Kids always knew that their profiles were publicly viewable, but now that they know their parents are watching, do you really think they're going to want to continue publicly expressing their burgeoning curiosity about sex, drugs, or whatever?
Currently, the media has re-branded MySpace as a tool for parents to check up on the secret activities and thoughts of their children. And with MySpace taking steps to make it impossible to lie about one's age (see the WSJ article) the options for remaining undetected by authority figures are becoming slim.
While I'm sure MySpace will weather this current media-freak out, I'm convinced that stripping away the image of MySpace as a chaotic and often highly sexualized atmosphere will strip away the very appeal of participating.
Much like AOL (the chat rooms in 1.0 were truly a red-light district), MySpace is compelled to clean up the network and de-sexualize the service as much as possible. Sure, it'll still be a useful tool for musicians and people with stuff to promote, but the exploratory expression (sexual or otherwise) of teens is what keeps its users active and drives new subscribers.
So what will become of MySpace? In my next post, I'll go into some other reasons why I think the sun is setting on the popular portal, and why the MySpace of tomorrow will function much differently than MySpace of today.