In Teens' Web World, MySpace Is So Last Year

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By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 29, 2006

Teen Web sensation MySpace became so big so fast, News Corp. spent $580 million last year to buy it. Then Google Inc. struck a $900 million deal, primarily to advertise with it. But now Jackie Birnbaum and her fellow English classmates at Falls Church High School say they're over MySpace.

"I think it's definitely going down -- a lot of my friends have deleted their MySpaces and are more into Facebook now," said Birnbaum, a junior who spends more time on her Facebook profile, where she messages and shares photos with other students in her network.

From the other side of the classroom, E.J. Kim chimes in that in the past three months, she's gone from slaving over her MySpace profile up to four hours a day -- decorating it, posting notes and pictures to her friends' pages -- to deleting the whole thing.

"I've grown out of it," Kim said. "I thought it was kind of pointless."

Such is the social life of teens on the Internet: Powerful but fickle. Within several months' time, a site can garner tens of millions of users who, just as quickly, might flock to the next place, making it hard for corporate America to make lasting investments in whatever's hot now.

MySpace is one of the most wildly successful sites in recent years, amassing 124 million profiles and transforming teen life online during its 2 1/2 years of existence. The site functions like a cross between a diary, e-mail program and photo album where content can be shared with friends, whose pictures appear on a member's profile.

One key measure of a site's popularity is the amount of time a user stays on the site. Tracked over time, such usage data for older networking sites frequented by young people show how popularity gradually rises then falls, like an inchworm's back.

Take Xanga, the hot social networking site before MySpace: In October 2002, the typical Xanga user spent an average of 1 hour and 39 minutes a month on the site, a figure that declined steadily, reaching only 11 minutes last month, according to Nielsen-NetRatings. Friendster, another older site, hit its first usage peak of 1 hour and 51 minutes in October 2003, and then hit another peak of 3 hours and 3 minutes in February 2006. But last month, the average user was on Friendster for a mere 7 minutes.

MySpace usage ramped up heavily during its first year and a half, hitting 2 hours and 25 minutes in October last year. Then it dropped to about 2 hours and held relatively steady there for the past year. Facebook, a younger networking site, is still on a gradual incline, reaching 1 hour and 9 minutes last month .

It's hard to make an online audience stick. Most Internet services are free and compete for a viewer's time, which most sites then try to parlay into advertising dollars. The more time someone spends on a site, the more ads they see. The successful sites engender habits among their users, but users can -- and historically have -- defected to other services for any number of reasons.

The high school English class cites several reasons for backing off of MySpace: Creepy people proposition them. Teachers and parents monitor them. New, more alluring free services comes along, so they collectively jump ship.

The relatively short lifecycle of a popular site is a terrifying prospect for companies like Google Inc., which this month spent $1.65 billion in stock to acquire the Internet's latest grass-roots favorite, year-old YouTube, whose popularity Google hopes to harness as a loyal video audience.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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