Humanity has lived in the age of empire, and it seems to me that we always will. From the Aztecs and the Romans of the distant past to the cultural and economic empires alive and well today, humans can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to expanding into new territories. So how does an empire that once ruled over millions and millions of people manage to crumble back down into the tiny entity that it once was – or even be diminished to the point of nonexistence? Well, certain factors must come into play.
Any sixth grader could name a number of failed empires off the top of his head: the Inca, the Persians, the Soviet Union. But there’s one empire that most eleven year olds are wholly unfamiliar with. MySpace.
Ring any bells? At the height of its reign, MySpace was attracting over 75 million monthly users, from several different countries. This might not seem like much compared to Facebook’s over one billion users, but keep in mind that the Roman empire had a little under 60 million citizens. In fact usership was high enough that at its peak, MySpace was valued at twelve billion dollars.
So what exactly happened? It’s not like Facebook employees stormed the MySpace headquarters in a hostile takeover. And despite the fact that most people believe MySpace spontaneously vanished, the company didn’t go down without a fight.
If you Google “why did myspace die,” you’ll find forums full of people offering theories explaining the demise of the social media empire. Perhaps one of the best people to unravel the mystery of MySpace is Sean Percival, vice president of MySpace’s online marketing division from 2009 to 2011.
In his interview with The Guardian, Percival describes the defeated atmosphere of the once social media giant when he joined the company in 2009. Facebook was on the rise and MySpace was struggling to compete, in spite of maintaining its throne as the website with the most traffic in 2009.
So what really killed MySpace? Its complete disregard for users in the face (pun intended) of competition. Bought out by News Corporation, MySpace became more concerned with making money than actually serving its primary purpose as a social media site. The site was flooded with pop-ups and scam ads like the infamous PunchtheMonkey, and corporate leaders, rather than responding to user complaints, just pushed the relentless advertising further.
Interestingly enough, Percival admits that MySpace may have had a chance for survival had it resisted the urge to diversify (was anyone really ever going to join MySpace Books) and instead re-specialized, taking advantage of its exclusive contracts with record label companies and transitioning into a music streaming platform. MySpace eventually tried to purchase Spotify, but by then, it was too little too late.
In the end, what destroyed MySpace was its apathy towards what users really wanted. Much like the citizens of other empires, these disgruntled patrons chose to rebel.
For the billion-dollar News Corporation, it was a minor blow. But for the rest of us mortals, it is a reminder of the fragility of success and the instability of power and a lesson in the limits of empire.