MySpace to Divide Itself in Half or So

by Liz Colville

News Corp’s MySpace will reportedly be letting go of about a third to a half of its work force, reports the Wall Street Journal this morning, following a hefty round of staff reductions last summer. What happened here? To most people, it’s not even interesting anymore what happened, which does not bode well for the site’s future. The company would, of course, accept the Journal’s description of the layoffs as “part of a massive turnaround effort” — it began a relaunch of sorts back in December — but where will the site really go from here?

Its last redeeming quality was the refuge it created for musicians, many of whom gained exposure thanks largely to their presence there. But MySpace became this refuge just because it was there, because it was the best option at the time. There wasn’t a lot of choice for bands in the mid-2000s. But the ’90s interface! The company’s inability to lock up the programming of that ’90s interface so that users couldn’t turn their profiles into strip joints! Now the bands are following the rest of society to clean, well-lighted places like, yes, Facebook, but also newer sites like Bandcamp. Facebook has its hazards, but it is also easier to navigate (not so much use).

Here are two exciting things about this: “Haha” to News Corp, because buying a heavily-trafficked website with advertising woes at exactly the time that a rival was beginning its steep ascent, endorsed by old technology hands including Microsoft, was stupid. Injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into a site that thinks it knows where it is going does not necessarily or very often mean the site will keep knowing where it is going — will suddenly be more certain of where it’s going. On the contrary: being given buckets of cash to fuel a rivalry might actually ensure a site will be subjected to even more, “But wait — is this really what we want to be doing?” and “You’re wrong! Wrong, I say!” and “I quit!” and “Fuck you, you don’t even know anything about HTML!” as the company’s revolving door of executives has proved.

The second exciting thing is: Forget MySpace; it’s all about The Daily — an iPad-only daily newspaper from News Corp that is launching in the next few weeks, allegedly delayed so that it can launch in tandem with a new iPad model. It would be nice if the Daily would spread to other tablets and eventually the Web, but it’s prudent of News Corp to start small, and on the sleekest portable device of all. Anyway, since Apple’s iPad 2 is rumored to be cheaper, it means even more of us will be able to read the work of people like Sasha Frere-Jones, Lauren Bans, and Molly Young. It’s an exciting time in the media if a social network can be shoved to the left to make more room for a digital newspaper.