Listen up, MySpace: Here's how to get back on top

It might've started with the tagline "a place for friends," but what it really has to be is a place for entertainment.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
4 min read

Needless to say, MySpace is in a bit of a tight spot. The News Corp.-owned social network has been eclipsed in traffic by Facebook worldwide and may be close to losing its top spot in the U.S. And now,a management shakeup initiated by new News Corp. digital boss Jonathan Miller has seen the departure of CEO Chris DeWolfe and shuffling of president Tom Anderson's role.

Entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, who sold Weblogs Inc. to AOL when Miller was in charge over there, came up with a list of ten priorities for the incoming CEO. He's mostly right. But I think it's simpler than that: MySpace just has to put entertainment at the forefront of everything it does.

Facebook has won the social-networking battle, not to mention the reputation for tech cred, and no amount of developer-friendly initiatives is going to win that back for MySpace (a clear exception: social gaming, which is likely responsible for why MySpace's engagement metrics are notably better than Facebook's).

But MySpace has tech cred of a different sort. MySpace Music, the company's streaming audio service bolstered by investments from all the major record labels, is still a relatively new product but has been well-received. There are still loads of opportunities for this to grow more, from international expansion to merchandise and ticket sales. Some geeks are already impressed: When I was at Social Web FooCamp last weekend, one young entrepreneur told me that he didn't use MySpace as a social network, but as a music search engine.

MySpace Music, and surrounding entertainment content, should be at the center of the brand. The company has the opportunity--and the muscle--to fill the void of a mass-market entertainment power that MTV once held.

The first rule is that when it comes to entertainment content, MySpace can't settle for low quality or a poor fit. MySpace's first forays into original programming were notable misfires. "Quarterlife," which was distributed on MySpace as well as its own Web site, was a sleepy shoegazer better suited to the Sundance Channel. Faux-reality show "Roommates" was just tacky and poorly acted. Web audiences have become discerning enough so that they won't settle for public-access quality.

A couple of months ago, I went to one of MySpace's "secret shows" concerts, which featured singer Lily Allen at the Bowery Ballroom, a relatively small downtown venue in New York. I told one of my colleagues about it after the fact, and his response was, "Why does nobody know about these things?" If more people knew that logging into the right MySpace page at the right time could give you details about a cool free concert, I'm pretty sure there would be, well, more people logging into MySpace. There also wasn't nearly enough wielding of the MySpace brand at the show itself. It was one of those situations where a handful of stickers could've gone a long way in free advertising.

MTV in its heyday (and still, to an extent, today) understood the importance of in-real-life events in maintaining brand loyalty. "Secret shows" and movie screenings are part of that, but it can go even further. When I was growing up in the '90s, kids much cooler than myself would show up in Times Square to catch a glimpse of MTV's "Total Request Live" taping or to the "Beach House" that was set up in a different seaside town each summer. More recently, we've seen the success of Yelp parties: Rent a venue, invite avid users, and just let them hang out. They'll stick around online, too.

It's also got to be easy to find this stuff. MySpace's interface is so confusing to me that I've found it easier to discover new music through Apple's iTunes Store. Right now, half the home page is taken up by ads and the rest pertains to content ("Final Fantasy XIII" and "The Hills") that I have zero interest in. The site needs a real back-end overhaul, and maybe this is where one of Jason Calacanis' recommendations can come into play: Make some acquisitions. There are so many content discovery and recommendation apps out there, a few of which must be hungering for a buyout.

If people can be confident that MySpace is a reliable hub for finding insidery information about the latest in entertainment--fresh new bands, movie previews, the fall TV season, great Web video--that could be enough to get its momentum back. It might've started out with the tagline "a place for friends," but maybe the attitude should change to "a place to be cooler than your friends."

But, obviously, that wouldn't be the official tagline. Because then it'd be more like "a place for tools."