February 1, 2011 News Roundup

Begin the Social Media Revolution (or at least a revolution using social media)!  While social media might not have started the revolution in Egypt, it certainly played a major role during this week’s political upheaval.

During the week, the debate over who owns the internet also waged on.

On a lighter note, Mark Zuckerberg made a guest appearance on this week’s Saturday Night Live.  Tangentially, even though Facebook’s shares dropped 7 percent, Kevin Rose invested in Facebook on Second Market.  Even more tangentially, the MPAA busted over 50 torrent sites this week. Make sure you watch your SNL legally.


Stay tuned for next week, when Google promises to unveil Honeycomb, Tumblr will break a  quarter of a billion impressions a week and Julian Assange may (or may not) be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.


Clash of the Digital Titans: Facebook vs. MySpace

Last Wednesday, I did something crazy and decided to log into my old MySpace account. I assure you, this wasn’t just for nostalgic purposes. It happened after reading several stories of a likely sale in MySpace’s immediate future.

Let me preface this by saying that I have not logged into MySpace in three years. I haven’t been an active user of the site in about five years. So I was shocked to see the once poorly laid out “Welcome” screen now had clean lines and uniform, san serif fonts. This new place was a far cry from the MySpace I remembered using as a teen.

That is, until I started poking around profiles. Custom HTML. Dark backgrounds illuminated by fluorescent fonts. Dancing gifs. And of course, these were all accented by music straight off of “Now, That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 16”. Now this was the MySpace I remembered.  After about 20 minutes, I’d had enough and ran back into the well-designed security that is my Facebook profile.

I had a clear idea of why I left MySpace, but I wondered what prompted others to jump ship and settle in the land of Facebook. So, for the next few days, I decided to dedicate my Facebook status to getting to the bottom of the one of the greatest internet beefs of all time: Facebook vs. MySpace.

After a lengthy discussion, two clear themes emerged to explain why Facebook has remained the preferred social network of the Digital Generation.

Demographics & Growth Strategy

While there has been a great shift in user demographics for both Facebook and MySpace, it’s no secret that MySpace’s initial target audience was late teens and early 20-somethings. MySpace made its debut on the internet shortly after the 2002 launch of Friendster. As the online community’s only major competitor, MySpace offered Friendster users one competitive advantage—the ability to connect with their favorite bands. While Friendster offered bands the ability to promote events, MySpace actually gave them profiles. As Social Media Researcher Danah Boyd points out, “Music played a critical role in increasing its [MySpace] popularity, simply by giving it cultural currency amongst celebrities and by marking MySpace as ‘cool.’”

From the onset, MySpace was open to the public. Anyone with an e-mail address could have a profile, and have access to other user profiles. Its initial growth strategy worked on a small scale, but wasn’t adaptable to support rapid growth. Rather than appealing to one audience and then scaling out, the site opened its doors to the entire world, expecting to have fulfill its users needs with its existing infrastructure. As its demographic started to shift from the late teens and early 20s to pre-teens, MySpace supported it with different features and a drop in age limit. Boyd attributes this drop in age to the fact that  “youth…are inclined to spend more time going through identity development processes because they are trying to ‘figure out who they are.’ …Profiles are particularly supportive of this.  MySpace let these groups run wild.”

Facebook had its sights set on a different demographic altogether. Starting at Harvard, Facebook’s strategy for reaching critical mass was simply to add more campuses to its network. In the early days, users had to have a collegiate e-mail address to obtain a Facebook profile. Initially, the fact that Facebook was only present on a limited number of campuses generated such a buzz among co-eds that students couldn’t wait to join when the service became available at their school. (There used to be a link to request Facebook on your campus next to the login button). Soon, Facebook evangelicals had given the social network a level of exclusivity with which MySpace could not compete.

Facebook was ultimately digital gold to advertisers. Facebook’s ability to produce an entire generation of socially desirable contacts devoted to its use usurped MySpace’s appeal to advertisers. On MySpace, minors’ profiles were not visible as an effort to protect children’s identities in cyberspace. To get around this, many minors lied about their birth year when signing up, appearing older on the site. By having an open sign-up, and no correction mechanism for age falsification, the site was ultimately ineffective to targeted advertising campaigns.

Facebook also gained popularity among co-eds because, as my software developer friend Greg Farnum so poignantly stated, “it fulfilled a critical function at colleges: it made it easy to find out whether people you didn’t know well were single.”

Design & Usability

Everyone remembers the personalized profiles of MySpace. Even today, it’s hard to miss as each profile has a very different tone, layout, color palette, etc. This was all the rage amongst the younger demographic of MySpace as it allowed teens to visually express themselves and formulate their online identities. On the other hand, this also worked to the site’s disadvantage because no one wants to be the stock profile in a community of custom HTML.

Facebook came along and filled the void for an older demographic (whose identity was more closely tied to real-world activities) to connect online, but without having to prove how tech-savvy they were.  A great equalizer of sorts, Facebook leveled the profile playing field by giving everyone a clean layout that allowed users to access the information they were looking for quickly.

On the backend, Facebook is coded in PHP, while MySpace was originally coded in ColdFusion. “The use of PHP over ColdFusion isn’t a huge dealbreaker,” Farnum stated. “But if you’re clever in writing a PHP web app, as Facebook has been, you can make it very scalable.” This variance in coding languages also made a world of difference for user experience. Facebook was able to more quickly adapt to user needs, adding features like chat, tagging, video, event promotion and real-time analytics.

Contrary to popular belief ColdFusion was scalable, meaning that as MySpace grew, the language would be able to support the growing amounts of usage and content. The issue is that in order for ColdFusion to scale correctly, scalability needs had to be somewhat anticipated at the onset of development. If not, the language had limits based on how it interacted with its database. MySpace’s inability to adapt to rapid growth patterns have prompted a redeveloping and redesigning of the site to compete with Facebook’s platform.

In the end, Facebook has emerged the victor in this battle because of one reason: it had a great example of how NOT to create an online social network in MySpace. By building communities of scale, clever development tactics and more smart initial planning, Facebook has surpassed half a billion members and has left a giant footprint on both the digital and physical worlds.

January 24 Weekly News Roundup

The big news around the tech world from the last week has been changes in the management structure at both Apple and Google.

  • Apple’s Steve Jobs announced that he would be taking another medical leave of absence on the day immediately before their quarterly earnings announcement. Their stock fell a sharp 5% after Jobs’ announcement, but bounced back after reports of $26 Billion in earnings in the first fiscal quarter of 2011, a 71% increase year over year. Apple sold “7.3 million iPads, 16.2 million iPhones, 4.1 million Macs and 19 million iPods” during this time period, the iPhone unit sales alone showed an increase of 86%. Importantly, these figures reflect an iPad market that is larger than their PC market unit by unit and in revenue. The absolutely massive number of iOS devices in the marketplace has paved the way for the 10 Billionth App Store download.
  • Meanwhile, Google’s Eric Schmidt announced that he’d be selling $335 Million of his shares in Google stock, and handing control of the company to founding partner Larry Page on April 4. Page is expected to, as CEO, handle internal affairs and the day to day operations of the company, while Schmidt will be  focus on “external affairs, primarily partnerships, business relationships, government outreach and customer relations”. Sergey Brin will step down as president of technology and take the title of “co-founder” to focus on the company’s “strategic projects”.

This week’s news also reflected a growing focus on group sale sites.

  • Groupon is expected to be gearing up for an IPO that could value the company at as much as $15 Billion.
  • Competitor site LivingSocial had a revolutionary daily deal with Amazon selling $20 Amazon gift cards for $10. By the end of the day LivingSocial had sold well over 1 Million cards valued at over $20 Million. Amazon is one of LivingSocial’s major investors with about $175 Million stake in the company.
  • Not to be outdone, Google, which had tried to purchase Groupon for $6 Billion late last year, announced that they would be launching their own group buying site, Google Offers.

In Facebook news:

And all the rest that’s fit to print:


Mike Bonifer Changes The Game

Throughout his career, Mike Bonifer has dominated the intersection of technology and entertainment. After graduating from Notre Dame, Bonifer moved to Los Angeles and made a splash on the scene while serving as an innovative publicist for the original TRON film.

He went on to run his own website design studio Bonifer/Bogner and forged a close relationship with the creative team at Disney. His studio not only created the popular website for the film  Toy Story but launched nearly all key film websites for the company between 1994 and 1998.

Bonifer went on to rise in the ranks of the entertainment/tech space and served as Creative Director of BoxTop Interactive and Senior Vice President of Creative at both iXL and Vidyah throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In August 2002 Bonifer returned to working full time in entertainment. He directed a television series about Supercross and penned a script that ultimately became American Pie 3. After his time in teen entertainment, Bonifer returned to online entertainment and took the post of Senior VP Creative at Network Live. He eventually transitioned into the coveted role of Chief Storyteller for the Live Earth concert series.

Bonifer has served as CEO of GameChangers since 2007.  He and Dr. Virginia Kuhn wrote the book GameChangers — Improvisation for Business in the Networked World.  Both the book and the company harness the power of improvisation to create stronger teams and communities in the ever changing space of small business and large corporate environments.

10 Questions For Mike Bonifer
1. What are the individual draws of entertainment and tech, and how do they differ?
2. Define Quantum Narrative.
3. What was more satisfying, leading a team of developers and designers or helming the production team for Nickelodeon’s “Dirt”?
4. What is the draw for GameChangers in professional organizations?
5. Is there an organization or group who did not respond well to a GaneChangers program?
6. Did you ever find Bill Murray in your documentary “Finding Bill Murray”? Why did you pick YouTube for distribution of the film over Netflix or another company that could run it in its entirety?
7. Is there an audience for live entertainment on the internet? How do you make appointment internet videos?
8. Does children’s entertainment lend itself to online components more than entertainment aimed at an older audience?
9. How does psychology  play into (or is there one dominant psychological theory) online communities?
10.  What’s the biggest untapped market or group online?

Mike Bonifer Contacts:
Game Changers
Linked In

What is this blog, you ask? Lemme tell ya…

Welcome to the class blog for USC Annenberg’s class “Introduction to Online Communities.”  On this blog, you can expect to see about 4-6 posts per week related to our general course themes.

If you’re not yet familiar with our program, please review this description of our course objectives:

The Introduction to Online Communities course provides a basic set of knowledge, skills, and terminology needed to understand the advent, growth and development of online communities.

Students learn to engage with, critique, and discuss online communities through timely readings, reputable guest lecturers, and lively discussions. Assigned readings include both influential industry blogs and academic publications.

Frequent guest lecturers offer information about new developments in the industry and provide students with insights into the leadership and management of online communities.

Weekly discussions draw from the week’s industry news, other readings, and topics and issues raised by our guests. The class explores business aspects of online communities, motivations for their creation, strategies for cultivating them, as well as trends in this industry.

This wealth of knowledge serves as preparation for future classes and projects at APOC.

Looking forward to a great year of class. And a great year of student reflections here on this blog!