MySpace is nothing like it used to be.
It’s a nuclear disaster. It’s a stain in Silicon Valley of a hopeful-gone-terribly-wrong and it’s loss of online equity, prominence, and fame is legendary. It’s the butt of too many jokes to count and the platform technology is becoming even more laughable as time marches on.
It’s old, outdated, all but abandoned, neglected, forgotten, and definitely passed over. I haven’t signed in to the service in over a year; in fact, it’ll be 2 years this coming January, and I plan on staying out indefinitely. Their product is stagnant, senior management is bailing, and the future looks desperately dark.
But want to know something scary? The above doesn’t sound too far from the Church and some local congregations may find themselves in the same metaphorical boat: Loss of attendance, neglected, forgotten, with very few new visitors. Sounds like the death knell to me!
So what can the Church learn from MySpace? Here’s my technological perspective on five things that the Church could take notice of and learn from one of the biggest falls in high tech history:
1. Pride Comes Before the Fall
In 2008 Murdoch told the world that MySpace would easily break 1 Billion in target revenue. This not only stunned the world but also the executive team. It was outrageous, a boast that represented a blind attitude that this was the future of social networking. Too much was banked on an industry that was un-bankable.
They missed that target. Big time.
Regardless of what was done and predicted and what wasn’t done (or should have been done) the fact is that no one can really adequately predict the success of web technology and products in the high tech space. No one.
And the Church should take note. Remember that your strategy, especially your web strategy, is not a tool nor a piece of technology. Don’t force your leadership or ministries to put all their eggs in one basket and promise the world significant change and improvement through a tool.
2. You Must Stay Nimble, Flexible
It has been documented in more areas that News Corp would like that MySpace was the best darn thing that the internet has ever created (not in those exact words, but essentially) and how competition to the likes of Facebook, etc. was nothing.
They were wrong. MySpace has since, of course, given up the race with Facebook and has accepted it’s decreasing valuation and traffic as truth.
Users have abandoned the site not because it wasn’t a neat place to hang out but because the technology wasn’t able to keep the pace of the changes within the space. What was once a nimble and non-bureaucratic system became bloated with leadership, ego, and communication-guile.
The Church needs to make sure that they can stay nimble and limit the amount of red tape that may exist from a technological perspective. This is absolutely necessary to be, and stay, effective in this new online landscape and culture.
This, of course, does not mean that the Church must be bleeding edge, but that leadership and ego doesn’t get in the way of continuing to advance forward. Stay nimble, stay humble, and don’t for a minute believe that you’re in any competition with other ministries.
3. It Takes the Right Mix of Leadership
When the purchase was finalized of Intermix (the parent company of MySpace) and the acquisition done Murdoch put one of his most trusted lieutenants in charge: Ross Levinsohn. Ross had a great background with the likes of Alta-Vista, and knew the space well (or at least Murdoch thought so).
The problem was that before the ink was dry Levinsohn having “issues” with DeWolfe and Anderson, the two co-founders of MySpace. They were world’s apart in terms of vision for the site and has been oft-said that DeWolfe and Anderson never really liked being told what to do.
Leading well in the technology space requires the right people first, talent second. You see, you can always hire the latter, and fill in the gaps necessary, but the right type of leadership is required to be successful.
The Church needs to be aware that it’s quite possible that the current leadership isn’t the right leadership to lead that ministry into the tech space. This could mean some significant changes and challenge the way in which we lead in those areas.
Levinsohn made a calculated error on the way in which he lead MySpace and the cost was great. In fact, for a large part, it was simply based on a difference of focus. He eventually had to leave.
4. Shared Vision and Focus
Levinsohn, to his credit, was a phenomenal businessman. He made Fox Interactive Media money. He did it well and he pleased his boss.
The problem was that money was the chief end of what MySpace became: a channel of dollars for partner businesses, Google, and other advertisers. What their focus should have been user experience.
It didn’t require a degree in rocket science to begin to see the rapid decline of the user experience as more advertising space was created, and filled, in every single page on MySpace. In fact, the user experience had now become subordinate to ad slots with weight-loss products rather than anything else.
The management team (and the developers) didn’t share the same vision (or core values). The product became a mess, and pressures like the 1 Billion sales mark didn’t help either. What was nimble, responsive, and fair to the community became sluggish, biased, and hell-bent on green.
They simply didn’t have a shared vision and focus and the Church knows far too well what happens when differences like this arise. The Church has been about the people, building relationships, and meeting the needs of those in pain; our web products should continue to do just that.
5. Continued Interest by Leadership
Murdoch had made the buy with as much flair and fanfare possible. His research was sound, execution well-played, and his interest was obvious. He and DeWolfe went to trade shows, conferences, and events touting the future of online and how MySpace was going to be the arbiter.
But it didn’t last.
In 2007 Murdoch purchased Dow Jones, and it was obvious the interest, time, and attention by the person who made it all happen was gone. DeWolfe himself had become the internet playboy of the digital age and tensions had already been noted that his ego was getting in the way of the product advancing.
The Church’s future doesn’t sit with web technology alone, but it sure is important, and it’s going to require an increased fascination and dedication to it as a serious communication channel if we’re ever going to fully realize it’s full potential.
Leaders must commit themselves, their ministries, and their congregations to investing in the online space and must engender a sustainable model to become effective long term. Don’t drop interest like Murdoch.
I must admit that, to be fair, this type of flame-on/flame-off story isn’t anything new, and to give credit where credit is due it’s really because MySpace had not only the potential to become a giant but because it was also the first to show that type of potential.
Why else would Uncle Rupert have purchased it?
But they executed poorly and their vision was limited. And the future doesn’t look too bright for MySpace (although anything can happen).
The Church, though, has far longer and deeper history than any web product, and has proven its worth to shine brightly through even the darkest of times. But we can always learn more, and learn we must.
[Image from Pierre]