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InfoQ Homepage News Debate: What’s the Reason For MySpace’s Decline?

Debate: What’s the Reason For MySpace’s Decline?

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Some argue that MySpace has lost ground to Facebook because of their technology – Microsoft stack – and due to lack of enough talent in Los Angeles, while others opine that it is management’s fault and the departure of many people when the company was acquired by News Corp. in 2006.

MySpace once had 150M users, and in December 2010 it had 130M, according to CEO Mike Jones who was interviewed by Robert Scoble, a Rackspace employee, during LeWeb2010. In the meantime, MySpace’s number of visitors declined with 14.4% from 73M to 63M in January and February. This came after another decline of the number of visitors by 27% last year, and 50% less time spent on the site, according to Comscore’s The 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review. If the trend continues, MySpace will become a small player in the social space. Scoble came up with two main reasons to explain MySpace’s decline: one is the technology used - Microsoft stack-, and two is the location of the business - Los Angeles.

The main problem Scoble noted with Microsoft’s stack was that “it isn’t set up to do the scale of 100 million users it needed to”. Regarding Stack Exchange and PlentyOfFish, two successful sites built on Microsoft technology, Scoble said that these “are two notable exceptions” but they “hardly are companies with the scale of MySpace used to have (more than 50 million users).” He also said that MySpace’s infrastructure sucks:

Workers inside MySpace tell me that this infrastructure, which they say has “hundreds of hacks to make it scale that no one wants to touch” is hamstringing their ability to really compete.

According to Scoble, MySpace’s CEO, Mike Jones, presumably said off the record during the LeWeb2010 interview that the technology used is resistant to change:

They answered with the cameras off: they can’t change their technology to really make new features work or make dramatically new experiences.

The second reason mentioned by Scoble was location, lacking the talent needed for building a large website:

There just aren’t “web scale” companies down in Los Angeles, and because Los Angeles is such a large place — it can take hours to drive across the city — there isn’t a single neighborhood that has built up a good talent base, the way Palo Alto or South of Market in San Francisco has.

This bet on Los Angeles doomed MySpace when Facebook came along. Facebook has hired tons of talent from Google and other companies. This expertise helped Facebook not only keep up with scale, but add new features.

As expected, Scoble’s post attracted a large number of commenters. Todd Hoff, creator of, considers that MySpace’s problem is not with the technology used:

The stack isn't the real problem. That's almost silly. Look at Windows, .Net, etc and they are all quite capable of scaling if used correctly. Facebook started with LAMP, but along the way they changed everything about it such that it would be hard to say they were still using LAMP in the end. Twitter went through a similar phase with RoR. You can't exist at this scale without transforming everything you touch to meet your specific needs.

Hoff sees the problem more likely to be related to people, especially managers:

Were they bought by a management team that didn't value technology? That seems likely if some of the development, release, and design decisions are to be believed. Core competencies seemed to be farmed out to third parties. Technologies like SANs were brought into to solve problems instead of dealing with the problems directly. Both are deadly. Whatever makes you a success you must own completely. Maybe being an "entertainment" company rather than a technology company fosters that sort of approach. But that again would get back to ownership and management. People seem to forget that talent can't work in a straight jacket, unless they are magicians.

Gregg Le Blanc commented on Scoble’s post:

When MySpace gave their keynote as to why they switched to Microsoft at MIX06, the cited the fact that they could handle the same user load on basically 2/3 the servers (246 -> 150) with a decrease of average CPU load from 85% to 27% to serve pages at their 65 million user load. …

So, I think it's more about people, architecture, and business plan.

S Jain said:

I think putting the blame on Microsoft is totally wrong (I do not work on .Net at present so i have no biases). I think it was a culture at MySpace. I work at a start-up in LA and have many friends at MySpace. It was so often I'd be working late and they'd say apply to a bigger company why work so late. Nothing against those guys but the culture there was go to work at 10-11 and home by 7.

Scott Seely added:

I was at MySpace for a while. The reasons for the decline MySpace has nothing to do with technology. It has everything to do with human issues. Once Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson left, a lot of the key leadership followed. Also, a lot of the creatives (product managers, devs, artists, etc.) saw executives leaving and decided it was a good time to try something else. Too much institutional knowledge left too quickly, and that sabotaged MySpace. Basically, when Owen Van Netta was announced, people worked their networks and started moving. And yes, a complicated system is hard to change when the architects have moved on to new challenges, lead devs are busy at new companies, and product managers are pushing ideas elsewhere. Facebook, Twitter, and others would have the same issues if the top 20% of their talent vacated the business as fast as what happened with MySpace.

What is your take on MySpace’s decline? Is Microsoft’s technology not scalable for 100M users? Is there not enough talent in LA to create a large website? Is it the management or the departure of talented people responsible for the initial design? Or something else?

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