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The Moral of MySpace

March 10, 2010 – by Per Christensson

MySpace used to be on top of the world, or at least the World Wide Web. Now the website is no longer the most popular social networking website and its losing thousands of members every month. So what went wrong?

While I'm not an Internet expert, I have been developing and maintaining websites for over a decade. During this time, I have learned a few things about the website business. Certain strategies lead to successful websites, while others don't. MySpace made several mistakes in the past few years, but I believe the website's failure can be traced to one simple reason:

MySpace focused on making money rather than creating a better user experience.

I've seen it happen time and time again. Companies and individuals alike try to create websites with the sole purpose of making money. They try to find a niche market and generate as much traffic as possible. Once the website begins to attract visitors, they overload it with ads and affiliate links. Half of the content of each page becomes "Buy this!" or "Click here!" In some cases, it actually becomes difficult to find the useful content on each page.

I understand advertising is a part of the Web. After all, most of my websites include some form of advertising. Like it or not, advertisements are what make it worthwhile for people to publish content on the Web, which benefits us all. However, I believe that websites designed with the sole purpose of making money are destined to fail. People notice these websites are more focused on selling advertisements than providing useful content and they won't return. You can ride the SEO train for awhile, but it won't last long.

A website is only as useful as the visitors it attracts. That's why successful websites are designed for users, not advertisements. People appreciate sites with intuitive navigation and useful content that is easy to find. Sites that are difficult to use drive people away, which is what MySpace failed to realize. The MySpace website's user interface was poorly designed from the beginning and needed to be updated. When News Corp purchased MySpace in 2005, the company did nothing to improve the website's design. Instead, the developers made a few incremental changes and plastered some more ads on each page.

This strategy may have generated a boost in short term revenue for MySpace, but it led to failure in the long run. Many users have now switched to Facebook, which provides a better user experience, and now has far more members than MySpace. News Corp squandered a golden opportunity, on the scale of several billion dollars.

The moral of the MySpace story is simple. Design your website for users, not for making money. If your website offers a good user experience, the visitors will come and eventually, so will the revenue. It's too bad MySpace never figured this out.

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