Facebook: Another Win For The Geeks

Geek hiding behind desk

Hey, you can come out now: The geeks behind Facebook have the hottest social networking site on the Web ... for now. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Julia Angwin

Julia Angwin is senior technology editor at WSJ.com and author of Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America. Courtesy of Julia Angwin hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Julia Angwin

Forget corporate intrigue. This is a victory of the geeks over the cool kids.

Facebook's story is the classic geek fairy tale: Smart kid drops out of Harvard and writes computer code in a Palo Alto sublet, quickly winning fame and fortune.

MySpace's story runs differently. Some cool kids from Los Angeles find their spyware business going south, so they slap together a copycat version of a popular site called Friendster. They give their site a nightclub vibe, stock it with musicians and models, and stumble their way to fame and fortune.

If Facebook is The New Yorker, MySpace is TigerBeat. Teen girls decorate their MySpace pages with glitter and pictures of themselves in bikinis. Teen boys use MySpace to live out their rock-star fantasies.

Facebook began as an exclusive club for Ivy League students. It claims a math-based approach to friendship, christening social networks as "social graphs." It prohibits users from decorating their pages with fluorescent backgrounds. And Facebook's status updates force users to speak in more or less complete sentences.

MySpace's nontechie community was initially more popular than Facebook's. In November 2006, MySpace surpassed Yahoo as the most popular Web site in America, by some measures. Its triumph proved you didn't have to be an Ivy League brainiac to dominate the Internet economy.

But Facebook fought back with better technology. It built the revolutionary News Feed, which delivered news about your friends to your page — so you didn't have to go visit their pages for updates. It opened up its site to third-party developers. It endlessly tweaked and improved its privacy settings so you could keep your mom from viewing your party pictures.

MySpace was slow to match Facebook's technology features. It focused instead on entertainment, launching a celebrity news site and a music site.

Slowly but surely, the geeks overtook their Hollywood rivals. Last April, Facebook surpassed MySpace in worldwide audience, and now it's gaining on MySpace in the U.S. This spring, Yahoo surpassed MySpace in page views, pushing MySpace to the No. 2 spot.

Now the MySpace founders have been pushed out, replaced by a former Facebook executive. The cool kids are at the back of the bus; the geeks are in the driver's seat.

But this is the Internet. Nothing lasts forever. Apparently there are some guys in San Francisco who've built an even faster car called Twitter. Heard of it?

Julia Angwin is senior technology editor at WSJ.com and author of Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America.

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