Social Networking & Its Discontents

The force is strong with social networking, as evidenced by this fawning Fortune column on MySpace that says News Com. got a bargain when it paid $580 million for the online hangout site.

“News Corp.’s purchase of MySpace is looking like that rarest of rarities in the media world — a much-ballyhooed acquisition where it turns out that the buyer underpaid,” writes Fortune senior writer Marc Gunther.

Sounds to me like the talk I hear about San Francisco Bay Area real estate. Out here people who pay $500,000 or more for a house say they got a steal. Okay. I suppose value is all relatiive in real estate but back to the Fortune column, I note that with all the talk about traffic growth and ad pages, the word “profit” should have been in the piece. Perhaps it was an oversight on the writer’s part. Or perhaps MySpace is growing so madly it’s too busy to provide an accounting. Or perhaps things are getting a bit frothy — especially when you consider that $580 million has been bet on a fad. A powerful one no doubt, but one that has not been tested by time.

The concerns that swirl around MySpace have to do with what the Fortune article describes as a “moral panic” — “a growing backlash from parents, teachers, religious leaders and law enforcement officials, along with some media outlets.” MediaPost has reported that big advertisers are leery of MySpace and that the site is trying to clean up“content (that) can be risqué and, in some cases, offensive.” I guess it’s tough to be cool, shocking and corporate all at the same time.

Facebook, the other ultra-hot social networking site, may face similar challenges according to another MediaPost report that says “college officials … have started using the site to aid in disciplinary investigations.” That doesn’t sound particularly ominous to me. It would take a whole lotta cracking down to put a lid on the young adult enthusiasm driving that site. Have lawsuits stopped peer-to-peer music downloads? I don’t think so. But is Facebook profitable or merely growing with the promise of profits to come?

Meanwhile social networking snowballs. CNet has gone social via a Facebook-compatible site lauched by its Webshots property. And Paid Content reports that big money and big names are building social networks aimed at seniors.

Whether these social networks live long and prosper or turn out to be so many expensive fads I cannot say. I just know that they make me as nervous as Bay Area real estate.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media