May 4, 2007

Meet Tom–the brainchild, President, and Co-Founder of We’ve pulled him aside to figure out why on-line social networking sites have become so huge, and what it is that makes them tick.

MZ: Social networking sites have become a phenomenon, what do you think is the fascination behind these sites? Why are they so popular?

MS: Well there’s something old here and something new. The old is that it’s simply socializing. Most everyone loves to socialize, and that’s what MySpace and other sites let you do. What’s new, of course, is the way you socialize, via the computer. I’m well-suited for MySpace, because I’m the sort of person who grew up socializing online – from the time I was 12 I was using a modem to talk to people via message boards and various forms of chat. For me, it’s perfectly naturally, and actually preferable in many ways to make friends online. Even today some of my best friends are people I met as a teenager in my room with my 300 bps modem. It’s preferable for a few reasons – I can meet different people then I’d meet in real life, and I can meet people while I’m doing something else. I’m not the sort of person to go a party or a club and mill about looking for new people. But I could be doing my homework, working, or anything on the computer and come across people that I can message and IM when I have a spare moment, and real friendships are formed that way. So these sites are becoming popular, I think, because the mainstream is realizing that socializing online is not just for “computer nerds.” It’s mainstream enough that we’ve got a development deal to do a reality TV show based on MySpace. That’s about as mainstream as it gets I suppose.

MZ: While Friendster was the first site to dominate the market, has emerged out of nowhere and has grown to huge popularity. How was MySpace able to do this?

MS: I think the unfortunate reality for Friendster is that their site just stopped working on them; it became unusable. I liked using Friendster but stopped when it got so slow that I couldn’t write to or browse anyone. MySpace appeared right when Friendster ran into its technical problems. Once the migration started, most users found they preferred MySpace. Nielsen Net Ratings showed that MySpace passed Friendster in traffic in January.

MZ: How many users currently use MySpace?

MS: Right now we have about 1.2 million active users.

MZ: What do you see in the future for social networking and MySpace ?

MS: As an industry, I think the 20 or so sites will disappear. I think only a few will last. No other site has really built up a user-base but MySpace and Friendster. The future of MySpace is bigger than one might imagine. We want to be a personal portal, where you share your life with friends. We see Yahoo, MSN and AOL as our competitors; I don’t really think much about the “social networking” space. I think about the big three portals. That’s where we want to be. It’s a lofty goal, that I would have never dreamed of attaining six months ago. But that’s what we want.

It’s interesting to note that users already spend more time on MySpace than they do on Yahoo. If we gave users all the features they are used to on other sites, why would they ever leave MySpace? I know MSN is trying to integrate social network into all their features. I don’t think it’ll be so easy for them. I like what we’ve got at MySpace – a social network as the base upon which we can integrate more features. I think we’ll be able to design a system that works better for people because we don’t have to destroy before we build, which is what MSN is faced with. You’d be really surprised, I think, to see some of the things we’re developing. I don’t want to tip my hand, but it’ll change how people use the Internet, I think.

MZ: How was MySpace created? By whom, and for what objectives?

MS: MySpace was a creative idea before it was a business. When we saw that it took off and we saw the costs would be enormous, we quickly realized we needed to make money or it would all disappear. So now it’s a labor of love that I think will also create a lot of jobs and an opportunity for MySpace employees and advertisers.

MZ: Do you have a company philosophy that you try to follow?

MS: We’re not real corporate here, so we haven’t sat around and come up with a corporate mission statement.

We don’t do user surveys. We don’t have policies and procedures. We didn’t follow the rules. That’s starting to change as we get bigger; I assume it will change quite a bit. Right now its pretty simple–we’re trying to make something cool!

MZ: One of the fascinating things about social networking sites is that they’ve been able to attract and keep the fickle young (18-35 yr. old) users. Why do you think these people are especially attracted to social networking sites?

MS: One thing I’ve noticed is how rapidly attitudes are changing about meeting people online. Before MySpace began, I thought most people under 25 were really not interested in meeting people from the Internet. I think it was going on, but I didn’t necessarily see it. Under 25 meetings was going on with computer geeks, smaller subcultures, or ethnic sites. I think that was true to a large degree, because most of the mainstream sites that provide a forum for people to meet were dating sites. That was the only option for a mainstream audience. Why would a 22 year old pay for or even use a dating site? Most won’t. But a 22 year old, who grew up with ICQ, AIM & the Internet is also much less concerned about privacy. The Internet is not scary to a younger person. Putting their picture up is not a “dangerous” proposition like it is for a 35 year old. And its not scary to me because I was ‘online’ when I was 12 years old. So my perspective is a lot closer to people who are 21 and younger–people who’ve grown up “online.” Most of our users are 30 and under. I think 24 is the average age. For these people who grew up online, its not “geeky” to use the Internet to meet other people. There just wasn’t a lot of it going on because there was no place for it in the mainstream. Some of the ethnic-oriented sites were the true innovators in this arena–sites like AsianAvenue and BlackPlanet. This is where the under-25, non-dating site set were meeting online. But MySpace has surpassed both these sites in traffic, and really opened things up on a wider scale. People are really looking for friends on MySpace, and making them. There’s also dating going on, bands starting. Users are finding jobs and finding out about new clubs. I think it’s so cool; I think this vibe is what attracts people to this site. It’s a new way to socialize that is rapidly changing and become more mainstream every day.

MZ: MySpace does not charge its users for the service, is this just during a “testing” period, or will MySpace try to always keep its services free?

MS: No, we’ve never been in “Beta” really. This is not a test phase. MySpace will never be static. We’ll be adding to it forever, so there’s no use in calling it “Beta.” We’ll have premium features some day, but everything you do on MySpace now will always be free.

MZ: Has MySpace been successful as a business venture?

MS: All businesses take time – and MySpace is a larger endeavor than it might seem. Because of my contact with users and personal, hands-on approach, people get the idea that the whole thing is run from a PC in my bedroom. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have a very talented staff of 25 people working around the clock on MySpace and we’re still hiring. Right now I’d say MySpace is a success as a business and that its headed in the right direction. All indications suggest that over time it will be a wildly successful business. Advertising-based revenue models on the Internet have seen their ups and downs. Right now we’re in the beginning of an “up” phase, which I don’t think will be merely a phase. The Internet has enough penetration that the major advertisers realize its power for branding. They’re not afraid of it anymore.

MZ: Does and will revenue always come from advertising?

MS: Yes, right now it’s all from advertising. We’re going to add some very low-key premium features. No one thinks of Yahoo as a pay site, but there are plenty of things on Yahoo you can pay for. That’s where we’re headed with a premium feature model. The basic services people use now, will always be free.

MZ: You, Tom, especially seem very young to have such a large successful venture on your resume… How did you come about working with MySpace? Were you the primary founder? What background led you to doing and wanting this?

MS: MySpace was pretty organic. It was me who said “let’s do this,” but then I actually dropped out of the picture for about a month while a team of two worked on it. Once we had something tangible to look at, I stepped back in and it became a full-time job. I’m the President and focus mainly on the marketing and development of the site. Chris DeWolfe is CEO and co-founder, and he focuses more on the business aspect of things–contracts, legal issues, ad sales, partnerships. We have a great working relationship and each has the experience that the other lacks. My background is not in business. I came from a more creative background–I was an English major at Berkeley, a Film grad student at UCLA. I wrote books as a teenager and edited a journal of poetry & fiction in college, I wrote video game reviews. I was a singer in a rock band for about 10 years. I’ve first ran a community website from my home computer when I was 14. All these things led to MySpace–the emphasis on user creativity, the games, film and music sections. I wanted to create a community where artists could show their stuff. We’re just developing those areas now, but I think it’s what makes the site more interesting than a dating site.


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