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Opinion: Using MySpace and Facebook as business tools

By Julie Sartain
May 23, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Custom applications on the more established sites are another useful tool. MySpace is playing catch-up to Facebook in the applications/widgets arena because Facebook got ahead of the curve when it opened itself up to third-party developers in May of last year with Facebook Platform and subsequently released a cross-language development environment to help developers create a whole new world of content and functionality for site users.

In fact, Owyang said that more than 7,000 applications have been built on the Facebook platform, and 100 new applications are added each day.

MySpace, though, followed Facebook's lead and launched its own developer platform in February. In March, both companies made moves to better promote third-party applications.

What's the difference?

Even though both sites have their business uses, there are differences between the two. Observers have said MySpace looks like Yahoo, and Facebook looks more like Google. They said MySpace is busy, active and bold, with lots of bright colors and movement and an emphasis on multimedia content, and Facebook seems calmer and more subtle, with softer colors and a more polished design.

The demographics of MySpace and Facebook are different.
Michael Greene, analyst, JupiterResearch

Greene said "MySpace has a very nice product, although the interface is less refined than Facebook's. Facebook has positioned itself as a communications platform, while MySpace has evolved into a new-age entertainment portal with a social backbone."

"Facebook and MySpace can cleanly co-exist as they serve different purposes for different audiences," said Owyang. "Facebook, which has high penetration rate [among] college students and graduates, has one of the largest growth segments of those over 30; it's not simply the domain of the young."

He said that Facebook is more of a "lifestyle" social network that caters to many interests of its members -- such as social, business and family. This fosters interpersonal communication with the opportunity to adopt applications for use and sharing among the members' networks.

"On the other hand," Owyang said, "MySpace, which skews to a younger age of media-hungry members, offers many self-expression tools that allow its members to create their own experience and relate to a brand, favorite band, actor or media star."

"The demographics of MySpace and Facebook are different," according to Greene. "Facebook still has a strong grip on the college and young professional crowd from its days as a college-only social network. MySpace gets a younger crowd but also has plenty of older adults."

According Owyang, Facebook has more than 60 million active users, with an average of 250,000 new registrations per day. The fastest-growing demographic includes people age 25 and older, and more than half of the members are outside of the college environment. In comparison, MySpace has more than 110 million active users around the globe, with 300,000 new members added each day. And MySpace said that 85% of its users are 18 or older.

And in many ways, the sites are very similar.

Features for both sites include:

  • E-mail (through the site)
  • Groups (online clubs that members with similar interest can join)
  • Events (announcements of everything from birthday parties to concerts)
  • Forums (where like-minded members can communicate and discuss issues on every topic, from how to install an operating system to sharing culinary secrets)
  • Photo and video sharing (MySpace said that 8 million images and 60,000 new videos are uploaded to its site each day)
  • Classified/Marketplace section (free advertising for any and everything)
  • Chat rooms
  • Bulletin boards (where members can post information for others to view)
  • Blogs
  • Find friends (the sites locate other members in your network that relate to your profile information)
  • Personal profile pages (essentially a portfolio, resume and journal).

The focus of these two sites will probably continue to be more personal than business-oriented, but each offers valuable business opportunities, and experts expect them to coexist.

"Both of these social networks serve different needs to different types of communities, so we can expect them both to continue to grow in parallel," said Owyang. There is certainly room for both networks in the U.S. market, Greene noted, and he said both will continue to evolve into more sophisticated and complex entities.

So, with both networks expected to continue to thrive, is either of them better for employees and companies looking to do business? There's no clear-cut answer; it depends on the goal. A company may determine that one site has demographics more attractive to its marketing efforts. An IT manager may find that one site's professional networks include peers that better match his position. Another company may find that one site's development environment offers more opportunities to build useful custom applications.

One thing experts agree on, though, is that the sites offer many innovative ways for companies to communicate with customers and employees and for IT pros to enhance their careers by educating themselves, networking with peers and finding new jobs. Ignore them at your peril.

Sartain is a freelance writer in Utah. She can be reached at julesds@comcast.net.

Read more about Networking in Computerworld's Networking Topic Center.



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