- 8 Feb 08, 09:48 GMT
In a smart London bar last night eager young developers gathered to hear how they might make money out of MySpace. They were listening to the social network's Chief Technology Officer Aber Whitcomb who had flown direct from a similar event in San Francisco. The message was inspiring - start building quality applications for MySpace's 200 million users and you will soon share in the huge wealth generated by our global advertising business.
But hold on a minute. Last summer in a rather grubbier basement bar in London's East End, I heard Facebook executives preach much the same message to an even younger and more eager crowd of software wannabes. Back then we all believed that letting a thousand new applications bloom was a brilliant move for a social network. Everyone - Facebook, its users, and the external developers - would gain as the site became more useful and even more attractive to advertisers.
It hasn't quite worked out like that. First, thousands of applications of extremely variable quality have been lobbed at Facebook users, leaving many of them bewildered and bored by the onslaught of vampires, zombies and super-walls which have cluttered up what was once a clean, simple and elegant service. Second, it doesn't look as though it has proved profitable for any but a tiny handful of developers. Sure, the makers of Scrabulous have garnered a moderate income but
a) they have millions of users
b) the one advertiser I know who used the site gave up after only receiving responses from bored Canadians
c) they are being sued by the makers of Scrabble.
And for every Scrabulous, there are hundreds of applications which are being ignored by Facebook users.
With the economic climate getting stormy, advertisers no longer seem quite so convinced that social networks are the place to be. Sure, MySpace is still a much bigger business than Facebook. And canny old Rupert Murdoch, who was derided for paying $500m for the network in 2005, promptly proved that he wasn't born yesterday by doing a $900m advertising deal with Google. But this week Google admitted that social network advertising had so far failed to deliver what was expected. Or in the words of Google’s Sergey Brin : “I don’t think we have the killer best way to monetize social networks yet. We have had a lot of experiments (and some disappointments)."
So those eager young software devleopers may soon share in that disappointment. Anyway, it was a very nice party, and Aber Whitcomb was kind enough to speak to a confused reporter wielding a mobile phone. Here he is:
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