Myspace is trying to match Facebook’s latest efforts in both advertising and in user features.
Its parent unit within News Corp, Fox Interactive Media, plans to create an ad network that will run graphical banner ads on Myspace, other News Corp. properties, and on independent sites. Myspace announced its ad-targeting efforts within its site last month; this ad network is an extension of their earlier efforts. Facebook has been pursuing similar plans through its own ad-targeting program, called Social Ads.
Myspace also plans to release a Facebook-style news feed within the next month or two that shows you what your Myspace friends are up to on the site, according to a high-level executive.
Facebook’s news feed shows you a reverse-chronological list of recent actions taken by your Facebook friends, such as changes to profile photos, relationship updates, and other interesting information. It was controversial with users when first introduced more than a year ago, because it let each person see what their friends were up to without making them browse each friend’s profile to check for changes.
The news feed has since become one of the site’s most popular features. People learned to appreciate how quickly they could learn about each other.
Many Myspace users aren’t on Facebook, and so MySpace’s introduction of the same feature might result in a similar user backlash — followed by acceptance.
That’s not the only challenge for Myspace’s news feed.
It will also need to match Facebook’s efforts to engineer its news feed algorithm so that only the most relevant actions are displayed. Facebook has described in some detail the challenges of doing this. Its existing news feed algorithm searches through the thousands of actions taken by your friends on the site. It then tries to determine which actions matter to you most, taking into account nearly every scrap of information it knows about you. It even lets you decide which types of news feed items will be displayed most often.
Most recently, it introduced a way where users can vote on their favorite feed items.
Some of these features may challenge MySpace. Facebook prides itself in its engineering skills, while Myspace prides itself as a media company, not a tech company.
Facebook’s emerging ecosystem of third-party applications has benefited from news feeds, in a way that Myspace may struggle to replicate. When Facebook’s developer platform first launched in May, third-party application companies thrived. Whenever a user chose to place an application on their profile page, that action was broadcast to the user’s friends. Applications such as RockYou reported this was the best way to get more users as well as to keep existing users coming back.
However, more recent reports suggest applications get more users from users seeing actions on their friends’ profile pages, not from the news feed on their own pages. This is not surprising. Just like Google works to prevent sites from gaming search results to favor their own results, so Facebook has worked to minimize third parties gaming its news feeds. If users learn nothing about their friends other than what applications they’re adding, the news feed becomes less useful. Myspace will need to similarly regulate such spam.
The introduction of Myspace’s own news feed also means both more work and more opportunity for third party developers building applications for OpenSocial — the developer platform for a number of social networks, that Myspace is a member of. Some other OpenSocial member networks, like Hi5 and Orkut, are developing their own news feeds. Others, like Oracle, may never incorporate the concept. If a third party developer has an application that relies on a news feed to grow, it just won’t work on some OpenSocial sites — a problem pointed out by top Facebook application developer Blake Commagere.
Myspace has other plans in the works, as well. It will also let a single user create multiple profiles, such as a profile for friends to see, another for family and another for coworkers. Many Myspace users already create distinct, unconnected profiles with various alter egos. Facebook has also said it will let you organize friends into groups, so you can decide which Facebook friends get to see information about you in your profile and your news feed.
[Update: TechCrunch has screenshots and more details of the news feed, including news that this feature will start being tested this Thursday. Myspace’s version is called “friend updates” just like Hi5’s version of the news feed — Orkut’s news feed is similarly called “updates from friends.” Myspace, in fact, built the “friend updates” in order to make itself more attractive to third-party developers, Techcrunch reports. It also offers granular control over which friends can see what items about you in their updates.]