- 19 Feb 09, 11:29 GMT
I'm not entirely sure that Chis DeWolfe enjoyed our encounter at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The affable American, co-founder and chief executive of MySpace, was jet-lagged, having stepped off a flight from Los Angeles that morning into a punishing schedule of interviews and the launch of a new mobile offering. Then I arrived to interview him for radio - and to point a video camera at him for this blog:
I spent half an hour suggesting that MySpace just wasn't cool any more. To his credit, he didn't lose his cool - just kept on insisting I was wrong to suggest that he'd been left standing by Facebook.
There are all sorts of ways of comparing the audiences of social networking sites. I quoted Nielsen figures, showing that Facebook's global users now numbered 110 million, compared with the 83 million using MySpace. Chris DeWolfe punched back with figures showing MySpace had 76 million US users and 135 million worldwide, but the number he was really keen on was one from Comscore showing the average MySpace user in the US spent 266 minutes on the site each month, around 100 minutes more than Facebook users. But whatever you think of Nielsen or Comscore the trend seems clear - Facebook has been gaining on MySpace, particularly outside the US, and looks to be the social network with momentum behind it.
Ah, but here's the key difference, according to Mr De Wolfe - MySpace makes money. Good point. From the start, the site was focussed on profits and once it joined Rupert Murdoch's News Corp stable, telling the boss it was all about eyeballs, not the bottom line, was never going to wash. So MySpace's CEO says it has been profitable throughout its history - and he reckons it is the only social network making money. In its most recent results, however, News Corp reported a drop in revenues from the division which includes MySpace, blaming it partly on the cost of launching the social network's new music offering.
Like almost every Web 2.0 company, MySpace depends almost entirely on advertising for revenues and, whatever anyone said a few months ago, online advertising isn't recession-proof. "It's certainly got softer" was how Chris DeWolfe described the advert market, but maintained that his business was holding up better than others.
Fashion, however, is everything in this area. The first social network to take off in the UK was Friends Reunited, which ITV bought for £120 million in 2005, when it was already going out of fashion, and is now apparently trying to offload for a lot less. I'm too old to tell whether MySpace has lost the cool factor but a teenager of my acquaintance was pretty forthright in his verdict: "It's dead. Nobody I know uses it any more."
But at least it discovered a business model before the bad times came - unlike some networks that are seeing tremendous growth in traffic but have precious little revenue to show for it. As Chris DeWolfe said, gathering himself for a punchy soundbite at the end of our radio interview: "Time will tell whether they can figure out how to make money - we have."
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