MySpace: Next Big Web Portal?

Co-Creator DeWolfe on How Site's Redesign Will Benefit Brands

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Chris DeWolfe created the original in 1998, relaunching it in 2003 with President Tom Anderson as a place for musicians to connect with their fans and share music. Almost three years since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased for $580 million, it's the most popular social network in the world. And largely because of it, Fox Interactive Media was also the sixth most-popular brand on the web last month, according to Nielsen Online. But Mr. DeWolfe says his goal isn't to be the world's biggest social network; it's to become the next great web portal.
Chris DeWolfe is changing the ways brands interact.
Chris DeWolfe is changing the ways brands interact. Credit: Ben Graville

We caught up with Mr. DeWolfe by phone in New York, where he was making the agency rounds to explain MySpace's latest redesign, its global expansion and its plan to radically change how its 110 million members experience e-commerce.

Advertising Age: How is the new redesign of MySpace supposed to change the way people interact with the site and its brands?

Chris DeWolfe: If you look at the last six months, we've added a lot of new features to the site that provide better exposure for brands. MySpace is now up to 73 million unique users. Instead of being considered as "social media" or "social network," those people who are spending 'portal' dollars [i.e., advertising on MSN or Yahoo] are now putting MySpace into that bucket, so the buys are becoming bigger. There's more sellable inventory on those high-traffic home pages. I would equate our home page more with, say, a Yahoo, where a big, branded advertiser wants to make a big splash, or a big statement. Then becomes a must-buy.

Ad Age: Late last year, Facebook had to apologize to its users over the way it introduced a controversial ad service called Beacon, which tracked the actions of Facebook members when they used other sites around the internet. What did you learn from Facebook's mistake?

Mr. DeWolfe: First of all, I don't know exactly what happened with Facebook. But I think ... we've always tried to put the user first, always put the user in control -- not only of their experience on MySpace but of everything. Even more importantly, they're in charge of their data; what happens to it and where it goes. There's no sneaky "opt-out" stuff. Users can make their profile private. They can choose to bring their profiles to Yahoo but not to Twitter. It's completely up to them.

Ad Age: That seems to be the lesson, right? That people will know that you're not going to exploit them?

Mr. DeWolfe: The user is more important than the advertiser, more important than the developer, more important than anyone else. At the end of the day, it's the user who's going to drive the advertising dollars.

Ad Age: How much of your future rests on getting your members to shop?

Mr. DeWolfe: I don't think a whole lot of it does. I mean, e-commerce certainly is in our future. We just announced probably one of the biggest music deals in history: We partnered up with the largest music companies in the world to create the largest music community with the largest music catalog. From there, we're going to offer free music streaming of any song in the catalog, but there will also be the ability for a user to buy literally any track in the catalog, any playlist that a user may have on their page, a ringtone, a ticket, merchandising, etc. So there are plans for e-commerce on our site in the future. But I think the lion's share of our revenue will come from advertising. We're really bullish on it.

Ad Age: It seems like music content is far and away an easier thing to get people to share and to buy. Are you concerned that MySpace could turn into an Amway presentation or a Tupperware party?

Mr. DeWolfe: E-commerce has to be in the proper context. We have 5 million band profiles on our site. What we want is that anyone who's thinking about music go to before they do anything else. That's got to be the first thing on their mind: Anything about music equals MySpace. What that means is, they can come onto that band's page, sample the latest single from that band. Then they can go back and listen to some of their old albums. Then we've put them in a context where they may want to buy that album, because they've just listened to it and loved it. Or they may want to see when that band is coming to town, and have the opportunity to buy a ticket to the concert, and then buy a T-shirt for that concert and then buy a ringtone for their phone. That's all a really contextual environment that puts everything in one place for the user. Because, chances are, that user does want to go to that concert. They do want that T-shirt, and they do want the ringtone. We put it all in one place. Right now, they have to go to 10 different places. The starting point for all that right now is still MySpace, but we want to reduce the friction for them to be able to have that total 360-degree music experience.

Ad Age: But music is an inherently shared experience. I mean, there are very few, if any, fan clubs for Tide detergent or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, but there are a lot for U2 and the Black Eyed Peas. Aren't you leaving a lot of money on the table by not creating a context for your users to buy those consumer brands, too?

Mr. DeWolfe: Let me share some of our other future plans with you. There are 20 million small businesses in the United States that we don't service at all. We just don't, because we don't have the manpower on the sales side to take smaller orders in a self-service environment. But in the last month or so, we've rolled out our small-business product, which allows local businesses to advertise on MySpace. And so, what we're going to do is create special profiles for small businesses, where, for example, a dry cleaner will be able to go onto MySpace and buy a hypertargeted ad to target a soccer mom in their ZIP code with a 10%-off coupon.

Ad Age: You're owned by one of the world's largest media companies, but it seems as though you haven't been used to bring synergy to bear that much. Is that by design?

Mr. DeWolfe: Actually, we carry every single Fox television episode in the network. Right now you can find virtually any episode of any show in prime time on MySpace.

And we'll do special integrations and promotions with them, just like we will NBC and with other networks -- for example, "America's Got Talent." We're going to be working with them. They're going to every major city to find the most talented person in that city. In this upcoming season, MySpace is going to be one of those cities. We'll also be developing our own five-minute webisodes soon, and we can see right away if they're popular and gain a fan base. Then we can upstream those to Fox or any other network out there. I don't see us taking business away from networks; I think it's synergistic, and not just with Fox.

Ad Age: What's next?

Mr. DeWolfe: Mobile. MySpace is going to be on every virtually every mobile device in the world within the next year.
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