Amid continued drumbeats that social networking is the future, NewsCorp (NWS) divested a majority of its MySpace holdings for pennies on the dollar. Specific Media, a mostly anonymous advertising company, purchased a dominant (95%) stake in the moribund site. One questions the wisdom of the acquisition, as MySpace's attempt to reposition itself as a hub for music lovers and artists has failed to put the breaks on a long-time fade into irrelevance.
MySpace's slow-motion implosion is the stuff of bubble 2.0 legend, but also largely a function of hindsight. Inspired by now-defunct Friendster, the site saw explosive growth and hammered main rival Facebook in traffic through 2006 and 2007, reaching a peak estimated valuation in the neighborhood of $12B when NewsCorp attempted to fold it into Yahoo (YHOO). For a good while, it seemed that Rupert Murdoch's half-billion and spare change gambit would pay off in spades.
Reality, however, intervened. Accurate forensics are impossible given the dearth of information from NewsCorp quarters, but a plausible post-mortem analysis from ArsTechnica, operating on rather generous assumptions, has MySpace never posting positive income through its peak years. Turns out the Internet does not sprinkle magical dollar-making dust on businesses and companies unable to offer unique and valuable products to their customers.
While MySpace has been called a cautionary tale for some time, the timing of the fire sale prompts relevant questions about the recent wave of low-float IPOs from web 3.0 darlings LinkedIn (LNKD), Pandora (P), the upcoming Zynga event and, of course, the Facebook elephant in the room.
There's no shortage of commentary, on SA and beyond, cautioning against unwarranted enthusiasm. My previous article on social networking outlined the extent of positive growth assumptions baked into current valuations for LinkedIn, as well as data pointing to a trend reversal in Facebook's march to Internet overlordship. For those with exposure to this summer's IPOs or who are looking to position themselves for Facebook's imminent launch, these two recent developments are worthy some consideration:
- While the methodology involved in ACSI's evaluation isn't exactly scientific, Facebook's presence on a list of the 19 most hated companies in America is a surprise among banks, regional utilities and the wireless carrier everybody loves to loathe, ATT (T). Between being caught red-handed trying to slander Google (GOOG) and yet another privacy flap, there's no mistake in the growing wave of anti-Facebook sentiment both in popular culture and, more importantly, in its userbase.
- Google's try-try-again approach to social networking is yielding some results, suggesting a significant part of Facebook's userbase has no loyalty to the service and may very rapidly migrate to a different site; a potential do-over of MySpace's traffic collapse.