Last night, I had a brief encounter with the President/founder of MySpace.com at a MySpace party. His name’s Tom and he’s already a millionaire (from a previous venture I think). He has about 30 employees working on MySpace, he told me. It sounds like overkill but I suspect most of them are contractors or freelancers (like the photographers taking pictures at the party). I don’t think he would need more than 5 technical personell to run and manage the site.
I never really browsed MySpace, other than creating an account so I had another look. It’s a lot more than just maintaining user profiles and friends’ lists. It has a lot of other services built on top of it: customizable user pages, blogs, forums, user ranking, groups, games, music, classifieds, and mail. Some of these services are more complex in nature than they appear to be. Bands, for example can create their own profiles with music for download. Fans in turn can maintain and share their music libraries with other friends. It’s a good concept. Some of these features are trivial or readily available for implementation (free or licensed) and maintaining them after implementation is not that daunting of a task — which is why I don’t think he has 30 people working around the clock. I would think 4-6 people could manage the site itself, depending on their competency levels.
Tom said he may offer premium services in the future but for now he is not interested in making money off users and is just sticking to banner ads. That one, I really didn’t buy! MySpace is starting to host parties across the states. They don’t want users to pay for MySpace.com — their profiles are paying for themselves. Searching for singles, between the ages of 18 to 25 in the Washington area turns up 3000 results on myspace.com. Of these even if 2,000 (two-third) are active users, that’s enough to have a good party going. Due to Tom’s personal interest and interaction with MySpace users, many consider him a celebrity which in some ways is well deserved. He, or I should say MySpace are able to bring out the users from the virtual world to the real world at parties hosted by MySpace. The crowd is well-aligned and shares common ground in music and possibly other interests. MyBindi.com is a similar site based out of Toronto. They operate on a more local and smaller scale than MySpace, hosting parties in the Toronto area and affiliating with other social networking sites in the Toronto region (desi-planet.com).
Both of these sites are doing what traditional promoters did (manage/host parties for like-minded crowds), but through the cyberspace medium. They have access to user profiles and they can assess the feasibility better than any traditional promoters. They don’t need fliers, they just need to post a party notice to the local user base on the login page. They don’t need mailing lists to promote the events; they have direct access to the users inbox. They don’t need to do much marketing either. The buzz is generated automatically through the social network medium (the blog and music features are the perfect tools for the purpose). Post-party follow-up and pictures create even more hype. DJs at the parties get even more exposure because they get free promotion (and lots of it) because of the music feature. The whole idea is a great mix.
MySpace does not face a big threat from competition either. Users usually develop roots within their social networks. This makes them reluctant to abandon a particular social network for another. Over time, a migration is possible (a user switches and invites his entire friends network over, who in turn invite their friends), but the migration is relatively slow and it would give MySpace.com time to react if competition ever sprung up. They are already offering most services a user could require and if the competition offered a better experience, they can still hedge the migration if they reacted fast. I know activity on Friendster has gone down since Orkut came, but people on Friendster have not abandoned it in anyway. Even if one good friend from your network of 30 friends on Friendster continues to be active, you will probably find yourself logging in to Friendster.
MySpace was built using Macromedia ColdFusion, a good choice considering it provides an entire framework for development and makes management easier than PHP (and it will make it faster to react to competition), not to mention Macromedia is a leader in multimedia products for the web (which can only mean good things for the future roadmap of ColdFusion).
Tom is 29 years old as of this writing and very approachable. I suspect if the growth of MySpace continues at this rate, Tom will be a very well connected man — possibly growing into one of the most influential promoters for parties in North America (or atleast a few select states). How long before he looks into a label?