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“Social sites wrestle for top spot”

I’m struggling to get any interest in MySpace/bebo etc. Yes, I know that they’re phenomena, growing, vibing and otherwise pulsating with the very lifeblood of young consumers, but still I feel as if it’s already over. Yesterday. Popped.

Why? Well, as I get older and recall the goldrush to have a ‘homepage on the web’ (the virtual “landgrab”), and then to have an AOL member’s page, .Mac etc. Then to have a basic blog. Then to have a “social” flickr/delicious/whatever account. Now it’s to have a MySpace ‘space’.

These passings fads are to do with inscribing your name temporarily on the web (“carving your name in a block of ice on a hot July day” as I think Miller said in Death of a Salesman). While many people use them for hobbies, communication, respositories, the real buzz is around the “youth” usage of them. Looking at such spaces though really shows that they’re doing exactly what teenagers do in real life: talk about little, tease each other, comment on other people and gossip, occasionally shock and generally play with notions of identity and presentation. In these cases it’s the interaction that’s important: the medium not the message, the journey not the destination.

The research bears out the skew to younger users:

The analysis shows that Bebo users tend to be younger than those on its rival with 54% of Beboers aged under 18 compared to 31% on MySpace.

So far, so interesting for the marketing people seeking to “influence” young proto-consumers. However, it’s not as if these spaces are the “digital home online”, the honeypot attractor that marketers seek:

The audience on Bebo tends to make more use of the site spending, on average, one hour and 52 minutes on the site every month. MySpace members rack up only one hour 28 minutes a month.

This isn’t so great a chunk of time each month for the computer-literate youth. Furthermore, while they’re ‘on’ the site no doubt they’re also on IM with their mates (“look what I’ve just posted! Check out Darren’s new photo – yak!” etc), texting other mates (telling them to get online) and talking on the landline. Oh, the telly’s on too, the MP3 player’s synchronising and there are several other browser windows open, all racking up “visit time” on homework sites, fan club sites and no doubt BBC Online 😉

For me the issue isn’t ‘what’s the current/coming hot spot where the “youth” congregate’, but rather what consistutes “attention” in this age of simultaneous stimulii. The is art to cultivate, hire or just admire is that of creating interest, demand and vibe in the youth market, not simply being the latest resting place for the duration of the attention span, or the half-life of cool.

Update: Just seen this post on TechCrunch, covering the financing of companies in this youth/’social software’ sector. I’d forgotten just how many network sites there all, all with a similar format: customisable home page, link to friends, all comment on what everyone posts.

This is a deeply funded market niche. Market leader Myspace is owned by News Corp. Facebook is funded to the hilt. Friendster is backed by Kleiner Perkins (and Benchmark before the recap). Newcomer Tagworld raised a healthy $7.5 million from DFJ. And tagged, focused on much younger audiences, raised $7m from Mayfield.

Oh, and of course there’s Orkut too.

Update 2: Just found this post from 2003 on NowEurope‘s list/group blog where I was exercising very similar “bah humbug” thoughts about the ‘business/social networking’ phase. At least I’m consistently quizzical, and consistent too in still using LinkedIn 😉

Update 3: Just seen this post on Publishing2.0 citing some Alexa charts, some qualitative research and a similar vein of cynicism to my own (!) suggesting that MySpace may have peaked. Glad to see I’m not the only doubter.