MELISSA BLOCK, host:
MySpace was once the dominant social network, but it's been eclipsed by Facebook: MySpace has 130 million users; Facebook more than 500 million. So MySpace says it's no longer fighting to be the leading social network. Instead, it's rolling out a redesign this month that puts the focus on its strong point: entertainment. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.
LAURA SYDELL: Although MySpace began as a social network, the center of that society quickly became music. Way back in 2004, MySpace was the cutting edge website for musicians like Erin McKeown.
Ms. ERIN MCKEOWN (Musician): My record label at the time said this is where people are going to go to get music. You need to have a presence.
(Soundbite of music)
SYDELL: When McKeown took a look at MySpace she really liked what she saw.�
Ms. MCKEOWN: And I think at the time that it came out that was very different than what artist websites offered. It was so successful because it was so simple and so easy to get a picture of who somebody was so quickly.
SYDELL: It was easy for fans to sample her music using MySpace's online player.�
(Soundbite of song, "Blackbirds")
Ms. MCKEOWN: (Singing) Four and twenty black birds perched on the milhaus floor. Four and twenty blackbirds perched on the milhaus floor. Watching a pair of blackbirds, a pair of blackbirds more. Four and twenty blackbirds perched on the milhaus floor.
SYDELL: For club owners who wanted to book an act like McKeown, MySpace was and is still a great way to get a sense of an artist and their following. Scott McClean runs a club in Portland, Oregon, called Holocene.
Mr. SCOTT MCCLEAN (Holocene): You can find out about their music, their culture, like what bands their linked to, and get an idea for, you know, how many plays they've received that day and that month or in total.
SYDELL: But these days McClean says he's also getting links to bands on other sites.�
Mr. MCCLEAN: You've got Bandcamp, you've got Sonicbids, you've got, you know, parts of ReverbNation. Oh, the other one actually is a company called TopSpin. And then you've also got...
SYDELL: You get the point. And that may be part of the reason why MySpace is loosing eyeballs. According to comScore, a company that tracks online traffic, more than 76 million people visited MySpace in October of 2009. This October, that number was down nearly 20 million and the amount of time people spent on the site down 50 percent. But MySpace CEO Mike Jones thinks the site can turn it around.�
Mr. MIKE JONES (CEO, MySpace): The new product we're introducing is something that the Web hasn't seen before.
SYDELL: What hasn't the Web seen before?
Mr. JONES: We're focused on this category termed social entertainment to basically give everyone a very personalized entertainment experience around celebrities, TV, music, movies and videos that they love.
SYDELL: Social entertainment, as Jones calls it, means that it will be easier for music fans to share playlists and create pages that cull work from their favorite artists. MySpace also has deals with shows like "Glee."�
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) You think I'm pretty without any make up on.
Mr. JONES: If you want to say, for instance, find all things "Glee," you can go to a page, you can follow "Glee" as a topic. And you're going to see all the photos and all the videos and all the articles about "Glee" happening all over the Web and that'll be delivered to you personally.
SYDELL: MySpace's new strategy and design are largely being greeted with a yawn.�
Professor NANCY BAYM (Communications, University of Kansas): Social entertainment, huh? How's that special?
SYDELL: Nancy Baym, a communications professor at the University of Kansas, has been interviewing the artists who use MySpace as part of a study on social networks.�
Prof. BAYM: I don't hear anybody saying, you know, wow, this is a really clever move on MySpace's part. This is really going to, you know, change things.
SYDELL: MySpace isn't just facing more competition from other online music sites, says Baym. News sites for TV and movie fans are sprouting up all the time.�
Prof. BAYM: If you want to connect around film and television, there's two billion sites to go do it on. So they have to offer something really compelling that makes people want to do it there rather than elsewhere.
SYDELL: But not everyone is writing off MySpace. Augie Ray, a tech analyst with Forrester Research, points out that MySpace still has tens of millions of users who average 90 minutes a month on the site.�
Mr. AUGIE RAY (Tech Analyst, Forrester Research): I'm more confident because I see the opportunity that exists based on how much people talk about their favorite entertainment. And if MySpace can tap any portion of that to a significant extent they'll be very successful.
SYDELL: But even here, Facebook could have the edge. Although it's still largely seen as a social network, there are companies building apps for Facebook to make it a better site for entertainment. And it's got five times more members than MySpace.�For musicians like Erin McKeown, MySpace is no longer a priority.�
Ms. MCKEOWN: With social-network type aspects of your career you kind of have to do everything because you're not sure of where people are going. There's so many places for people to go and get information about tour dates and listen to your music and find out more about you. I feel like I need to have a hand in all of them. MySpace, for me, happens to be at the bottom of that list.
SYDELL: Unfortunately, MySpace may soon be on top of a list of companies that once ruled the Internet: Yahoo, AOL, Friendster. It even faces some skepticism from its parent company, News Corp, which told investors if MySpace doesn't light up, Rupert Murdoch may pull the plug.�
Laura Sydell, NPR news, San Francisco.�
(Soundbite of song, "Blackbirds")
Ms. MCKEOWN: (Singing) ...watching a pair, watching a pair of blackbirds, watching a pair of blackbirds, a pair of blackbirds more.
BLOCK: This is NPR.