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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
MySpace founder looks to the future
MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe on striking the right balance in social networking
Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

MySpace defined the red-hot phenomenon of social networking. But is the site which introduced millions to socialising online losing its edge?

Not if you believe the co-founder and chief executive Chris de Wolfe. "We are clearly number one," he says.

But the competition is hotting up. In mid-June one rival Bebo unveiled a deal with Apple's iTunes while another, Facebook, has grabbed attention in recent weeks by opening up to a whole range of outside applications.

Despite this MySpace insists it is grabbing an ever bigger audience, while staying profitable,

When Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp bought the business in 2005 for $580m (294m), many thought he had made a costly error.

So what does Chris de Wolfe say to those who believe there is no real money in social networking? "I would tell the sceptics that we were profitable before the acquisition," he says.

"Internet advertising is booming beyond everyone's wildest expectations and we're number one for page views in the US with advertising on every page - so it's a great business."

Last year Google paid $900m for a three year advertising deal with MySpace, and the firm says all the major brands are now using it to sell their wares.

Top of the heap

The figures on who is winning the networking war are pretty sketchy, but most observers agree that in the UK, MySpace is in the lead.

MySpace homepage, AFP/Getty
MySpace faces fierce competition from rival social sites
Comscore gives it an extraordinary, 9.8 million subscribers, Nielsen a more modest 6.3m. Both of them put Bebo in second place - but it is Facebook which is growing most rapidly, from around 400,000 in November 2006 to more than 2 million today.

The problem for MySpace is that this is a business where you can go in and out of fashion at lightning speed. Does anyone remember Friendster?

Some users now complain that MySpace has grown too corporate, too messy, and too full of spam - in a word, it isn't edgy any more.

Chris de Wolfe laughs: "A year ago we were told we were too edgy - actually we've never tried to be edgy."

He says the whole point of social networking is that its users determine what they want it to be: "They can be as edgy as they want or as square as they want - it's up to them."

He denies that being part of the Murdoch empire has curtailed the MySpace's freedom to innovate: "Newscorp has helped us expand globally much more easily than we could have on our own," he says, pointing to the opening of a Spanish MySpace - the sixteenth localised site around the world.

But what about Bebo's innovative move to sell iTunes music on its site?

Mr de Wolfe says that music isn't quite the killer application for social networks that many claim - but admits that MySpace is experimenting with ways of selling tracks too.

Chris de Wolfe and his fellow MySpace founder Tom Anderson are unusual in sticking with their company for two years after selling it. The question now is just how many friends will they - and their site - have two years from now?




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