April 29, 2009

Julia Angwin's Stealing MySpace & Expanded Notions of Web Publishing

Julia Angwin - Stealing MySpace

Julia Angwin - Stealing MySpace

I just finished reading Julia Angwin's Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America and it's a great read, especially if you're interested in the power games of big media players.

Topics of interest include the birth of MySpace via a company full of sp@mmers, the infighting that plagues so many media companies both new and old, the slowness of Viacom and the quickness of News Corp in dealmaking as an extension of the big bosses' approach, the many and changing reasons for the ongoing poor performance of MySpace on the front end and the inherent difficulties and dangers of running a radically popular web publishing platform.

Though Stealing MySpace focuses on the behind the scenes maneuvering and the big business news, I'm discussing it here at This Business of Blogging because it got me thinking again about the fact that, on the web, the notion of publishing has changed radically and that the term "user-generated content" remains problematic in so many ways.

I do consider social networks to be web publishing platforms and MySpace is an excellent example of how such platforms offer a pro/am mix of web publishers that undermines the concept of user-generated content. If you think about it, this blog is an example of user-generated content because I use TypePad as a tool to publish This Business of Blogging. Yet, this blog is also intended as a professional web publishing endeavor or, at least, a project heading in that direction.

So, while the term "microblogging" gives blogging status to Twitterers, who are basically using a public form of instant messaging with social network components, and therefore expands the concept of blogging, the label ofuser-generated content limits the mental frame of those considering social networking in relationship to web publishing even though some MySpace accounts are important digital publishing sites for major bands, among other users of the service.

What's also worth considering is the merging of web publishing and marketing on such platforms as MySpace and not just on member pages. Widgets are an excellent example of the blurring of the lines between and the transformation of both marketing and web publishing.  iPhone apps are an example of related developments in mobile publishing.

At this point, for many readers immersed in this new world of digital self-publishing, these points may seem obvious but I think underlying principles should be simple and are always worth reconsidering. If one considers the difficulties of print publishers in transitioning to the web, one sees they are often resisting or even disparaging the simpler truths of our complex existence and that's one reason they're dying even faster than is necessary.

More generally, I've often stated or heard someone state something simple that relates to a deeper paradigm only to hear others treat it as an obvious thought. But what is so often revealed by the actions of those who claim to have a keen grasp of the obvious is that they've misunderstood or discounted what they claim to be obvious and so undermined the effectiveness of their work. For such reasons I consider the simple and obvious to almost always be worth using as tools to reconsider one's actions whether in business or in everyday life.

Though Julia Angwin doesn't really dig into such topics in Stealing MySpace, it is a good read and wraps things up around May 2008 with MySpace's CEO, Chris DeWolfe, finally in full charge of the total business (p. 261), a reminder of the inherent difficulties of running an entrepreneurial endeavor inside of a larger corporate entity, whether Intermix or News Corp.

It's also a somewhat poignant ending to this account of MySpace's early years in light of Chris DeWolfe's outster as CEO from MySpace.


Well, its hardly the most popular website in America these days. Its userbase has tanked quite a bit. That tagline would've been better served a few years ago (then again, maybe thats when the book came out? I don't know, never heard of it before...)

It came out in March of this year so it was probably finished by late 2008. At that point things were quite different.

However, as someone who continues to learn from the past, I think it's revealing in terms of the mistakes that laid the groundwork for other sites to take over.

Dismissing things because you haven't heard of them is a serious error, IMHO.

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