Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dear NewsCorp

and Rupert Murdoch,

RE: MySpace

Why do you do the things you do? Over the weekend, you blocked Imeem, a popular widget provider.

Now, I don't know what Imeem is. Nor do I, unlike the 100+ million around the globe, even use your service all that much. (MySpace missed me - it got "cool" for my little sister, so then I couldn't use it of course, and didn't get "cool" for me till I already had Facebook.)

But I watch you from afar and wonder why, oh why, you do the crazy things you do. And today I finally had to blog about it.

You stumbled into a gold mine. The founders launched a solid product and made the right moves to get it popular. Then you came along and bought the site for extremely cheap ($580 million) by today's standards. (Facebook wants almost 4 times what you got for far fewer users than you had when you sold.)

Now you, a bunch of media execs, are trying to run one of the biggest websites on the planet. And I applaud the effort - you're really doing a decent job - because you have the balls to venture into a new space rather than sit back and deny its importance to your own doom.

So I know you mean well with your attempts to kill widgets and keep the site nice and closed and safe. On the surface, it may even seem like wisdom - keep foreign things to a minimum because they could be bad and security is important. But there's definitely a little greed there - you don't want other people profiting off your site. And why would you, it's yours.

Here's why - those pesky little widgets you've been trying to kill are going to keep you alive. MySpace, as an independent organization, may have had a slight penchant for innovation. As a huge, bloated, media corporation, you have none. The men and women behind those widgets, however, are some of the brightest and most forward-thinking minds this country has to offer. And, guess what? They're working for you. They may be taking some of your pie, probably more of the pie than you give to your developers. But they're making your pie bigger.

For that, you should thank them, not kill them. And thank arguably your biggest competitor, Facebook, for making sure no one can develop widgets for their site.

While you're at it, crack open a history book or two. Maybe it's a stretch, but that nagging voice in my head tells me we've seen this one before. Inferior but open source technology against brilliant product with a proprietary system and a purist bent? Dare I say it? Microsoft vs. Apple? The OS wars? Learn from the past - encourage third party developers to build widgets and whatever else on top of your site (and, hell, you could take a play from Microsoft's playbook and reverse engineer the widget and add it to your product. Or you could just be nice and buy them). But you probably will want to invest a bit in make sure security on the site is top notch.

In other words, take the lesson from that old fable: don't kill the Goose that laid the golden egg. It never works out well for you.

(PS - If you're really bored, count how many times I've referenced the OS wars on this blog. I know it's a little hackneyed, but it's a classic example displaying the wisdom of quite a few tenants in the tech world. And there's tons of parallels to whats going on today in various situations. Really, why isn't this stuff more obvious? Do people just not think to look to the past to decipher the future? Or perhaps the view from the ivory tower tricks CEOs into thinking they'll succeed where others failed...)


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