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Saturday, 24 March 2007

FoxSpace? RupertSpace? MySpace?

Hey you, get out of my space: Tila Tequila's News Corp attack

· Singer pleads with MySpace not to sell out
· Corporate desire to make money from networking

Rosie Swash and Paul MacInnes
Saturday March 24, 2007
The Guardian

It began life as a humble social networking site to share pictures and music and became a byword for online youth culture. But now MySpace, the American website now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, has been accused of abusing its power by one of the singers it helped create.

Tila Tequila who boasts 1.7 million "friends" on MySpace, has posted a protracted attack through her personal website after the site urged the singer to remove an element from her page that allowed her fans to buy her music.

"Myspace will now only allow you to use "MYSPACE" things and that means you cannot find other ways to promote yourself", she wrote. "You're just stuck here. Myself and my millions of 'friends' on MySpace have been so loyal and MySpace would not be where they are today if it were not for 'US' so please I ask you guys ... don't sell out on us now."

Tequila's protest draws focus to the growing desire to make money from social networking and other Web 2.0 sites. The issue revolves around the word "widget", the term used to describe small applications that can be incorporated into anyone's web page. Increasingly popular online, they can help companies sell their wares, effectively creating shop fronts in millions of new locations.

In Tila's case her widget linked to an online music store called MySpace requested she withdraw it as it violated the site's terms of use regarding "unauthorised commercial transactions". MySpace recently signed a deal with a similar business called Snocap, which sells music from as many as 3m of the unsigned bands operating on MySpace.

MySpace insists that it is not trying to push its users into using its own commercial services. "We support the freedom of expression and creativity of our community," a spokesman said this week, "and must continue to protect the experience of our users."

But the suspicion remains that MySpace - sold last year for a jaw dropping $580m (£296m) - is now at the forefront of News Corps plans to become a dominant player in the new digital entertainment market. In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year Michael Barrett, chief revenue officer for Fox Interactive Media, a part of News Corporation, complained that the success of YouTube - sold to Google for $1.6bn last year - should have been News Corp's. "YouTube wouldn't exist if it wasn't for MySpace," he said. "We've created companies on our back."

This week News Corp took a step to shaking those companies off when it announced plans with the broadcaster NBC to launch a rival to YouTube - a rival whose content will be streamed through MySpace.

But it may yet prove that the audience remains one step ahead. There are a number of competitors snapping at MySpace's heels, with other musical tastemakers and retailers quickly expanding their audience.

Christian Ward, a spokesman for the British music website LastFM, said that MySpace's restrictions on selling and sharing music have proved a shot in the arm for competitors. "LastFM is just one example of the kinds of sites around that provide a richer quality of streaming, so the songs simply sound better. It also provides the user with the ability to buy songs, which MySpace doesn't, and this is obviously a hit with the artists themselves."

Ward highlights the indie band The Shins as an example of a shift in focus within the music community. They have 5m more listeners on LastFm than on MySpace.

While sites such as LastFM or make a case for the strength of their business, they may also benefit from a change in attitude towards the once fiercely independent MySpace. Said one independent retailer, Justin Goldberg of Indie 911: "Why shouldn't they call it FoxSpace? Or RupertSpace?"

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