MySpace was launched in 2002 by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe as a Southern California band promotion site. From a market value of zero, it grew sufficiently big for Rupert Murdoch to pay them $580 million for it in July of this year. Anderson and DeWolfe determined from the start to allow User Generated Content (UGC) because they sensed that the big boy on the social networking block, Friendster, was stumbling because of its censorship of user pages. Whether or not Murdoch's News Corp. execs will leave MySpace alone remains to be seen, but they certainly like what they see so far.
As of mid-August, MySpace was home to more than 2 million bands, tens of thousands of comedians, actors and filmmakers and, as a recent CNN report put it, "millions of striving, attention-starved wannabes." MySpace welcomed its 100,000,000th registered user in early August and signs up almost a quarter of a million people daily.
MySpace passed Google a year ago and now ranks second only to Yahoo in the number of daily page views, with a nice round billion, according to Web watcher Media Metrix. There are hundreds of other social networking destinations on the Internet — Facebook, Cyworld and Bebo, to name a few — but MySpace, according to Web site tracker Hitwise, accounts for 82 percent of the traffic in its category. It's because, as CNN says, it is by far "the most risqué and chaotic" of them all, and the users still rule. And the number one preference of users, of course, is sex — music being a close second.
MySpace is free and so far has been an unrestricted site where anything goes, which is why it's adopted by many adult content producers and performers. Yet, while everyone remains upbeat about MySpace, the voices of caution and concern are growing into a chorus.
Don Dodge works for what is called the Microsoft Emerging Business Team (MEBT) and has a blog called (along with a few hundred others) "The Next Big Thing." The boilerplate business blurb at MEBT's site says that it "work[s] with the Venture Capitalists (VC) and VC-backed startup software companies." Dodge's blog also provides spot-on analysis and insight about Internet "trends and troubles."
"YouTube and MySpace," he says, "are the multimedia Napsters of 2006. They are experiencing the same explosive growth, the same scalability issues and will face the same legal problems, and some new ones."
He attributes the reason for the looming "unpleasantness" to the fact that social sites are started by "young, inexperienced, technical people who are ill-equipped to deal with legal, PR and customer satisfaction issues."
Jeff Mullen, a leading publicist as well as a top producer of adult content, is satisfied with MySpace now but is smart enough to know there are some question marks hovering around it. "Any tool that helps to spread the seeds of discussion regarding a movie project or a star," Mullen says, "is useful, and MySpace is a valuable marketing tool to reach a specific audience."
That audience, say the Media Metrix folks, is concentrated in the 12-to-28 age range, with roughly equal numbers of males and females.
It's the low end of that range that spells trouble for MySpace, since the site is overflowing with adult material of every kind. Microsoft's Dodge realizes that such material "is everywhere on the Internet [and] is not illegal, but web sites must comply with COPA (Child Online Protection Act)" and keep minors away from it. That's a real challenge, considering the high level of computer literacy among today's adolescents.
Dodge doesn't mince words. "Congress, concerned parents and law enforcement are pushing for new and tougher controls," he says, and "MySpace need[s] to deal with the porn issue quickly." He knows whereof he speaks, having worked at a number of "Big Net" name brands. "I can tell you from personal experience at AltaVista and Napster," he continues, "that porn and copyrighted material [music] are two of the biggest issues to manage but also the most popular."
Because he stays current on tech issues and marketing techniques, Mullen has felt the rumblings of a social networking backlash, but like most others can't put his finger on the who, what or when. So he keeps MySpace in his toolbox for now and has a philosophical take on the situation. "I don't believe in turning your back on a delivery method just because you might not totally understand it."
Just recently, MySpace deleted the Britney Rears page for the third time. Mullen was nonplussed by the move, pointing out that "we have no nudity and nothing offensive. But they still cut us off, for some reason." Mullen and his crew now will need to put up the page again with a brand-new URL, rendering many existing links and previous promotional efforts worthless. Adding to the frustration is the fact that MySpace never emailed any reason for the shutdown, causing Mullen to opine that "in some respects, MySpace really sucks, but for now, it's still worth the effort."
For her part, Jasmine Byrne, star of "Britney Rears 3" and the upcoming "J-Ho" movie, says she is "really having fun" with her My Space page ever since All Media Play set it up for her. She also has a can-do spirit and knows that making it in the business is difficult work, so anything that gets her name out there helps. Every actress from the most recent contract girl to megastar Jenna Jameson is on MySpace and, as in any business, you've got to keep pace.
"I really don't know too much about marketing," Byrne says, "but I'm ready to take on the world."
And it wasn't long before the seamier side of the world came calling on MySpace. "I even get voice messages from guys and girls there," Byrne adds, "including a few creepy ones telling me they want to fuck me and stuff. Can you believe that? It's crazy but I totally understand that marketing is the key to increasing my popularity."
Unfortunately, MySpace also is an increasingly popular destination for the kind of people that the adult industry wants no part of.
"[MySpace] is the perfect environment for child predators posing as kids," blogger Dodge states. "This kind of stuff is extremely difficult to catch and potentially very dangerous. It will only take a few tragedies to rally concerned parents, law enforcement and Congress to crack down on these social networking sites."
Hillary Scott, star of "Corruption," is hoping the crackdown will be targeted at the real criminals, pederasts, and not a shotgun approach targeting all adult content. "I definitely love to hear what my fans have to say," Scott says, "so I think using the Internet as a communication and marketing tool is really cool."
Scott also identifies a weak link in the continuously converging media-delivery chain. "This has been a really crazy year for me," she reports, "and I often think I might be getting overexposed. But I guess as long as I keep getting to make great movies and people continue to want to see them, then everything is worth it."
How long Scott and her colleagues will be able to use MySpace as a career booster is an open question. In late summer, Reuters reported that both the state of Massachusetts and the U.S. Congress already were pushing for tighter controls.
Dodge is blunt about the near future for social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube. "The sites need to do something now before it becomes a bigger problem." He hopes that News Corp. will step in and "provide the experience, experts and money needed to manage these issues" for MySpace. All of the hot social networking sites, especially MySpace, "could be grand slam home runs or strikeouts," Dodge says. "How they handle these issues will ultimately determine their success."
For some users, a MySpace slowdown or shutdown would be a major catastrophe. For the well-positioned, widely dispersed adult company or performer, such an event would be sad, certainly, but another site or resource or photo op is always just around the corner. And the adult industry is famous for finding corners.