media giants still trying to buy audiences…

from The Observer

Murdoch goes all out for cyberspace domination

The plan, so far as it is known, is to turn MySpace into a full-fledged competitor to portals such as Yahoo and MSN. Murdoch plans to add the features that make sites ‘sticky’ – a sticky site is one that attracts more users to spend longer on it – and that, the theory goes, is no longer solely about supplying content but about allowing music and video downloads, instant-messaging programs, internet telephone calling and sophisticated Google-styling search engines. Rather than launch and brand a new Fox rival to existing portals, News Corp is to build out on MySpace. So far, acquisitions include sites and technology aimed at fans of videogame, film and sport.

‘So that it doesn’t seem like we’re buying all these idiotic, disparate businesses, here’s the thing that sort of runs throughout what we’re doing: we’ve bought audience, youth and communities that play to the sweet spots of News Corp’s strengths. We’ll try 50 different ways of co-mingling content from News Corp properties with our new internet distribution properties. Some will fail. Many will work.’

But the audiences of teenagers and young adults Murdoch and all media seek to bring to the bosom of advertisers are flighty and elusive. MySpace could lose its appeal as another social network, Friendster, did after a brief moment in the spotlight a few years ago. Some still question what kind of community MySpace has created. It looks a lot like school – tribal, full of cliques, a place where favours are exchanged and scores settled.

‘We are endlessly fascinated with each other, almost as much as we are fascinated by ourselves,’ says Paul Saffo, a strategist at the Institute for the Future. ‘The early promise of an expansive and idealistic vision of cyberspace has ended up in a kind cyburbia, a vast, bland wasteland of people looking at pictures of each other and pictures of starlets.’

That may be disappointing but others believe we are entering an exciting era in web technology. This time around, MySpace and others seem to show, the user is firmly in charge and successful new technologies are geared to reinforcing the power of the individual. Bruce Sterling, the man who coined the term cyberspace and a keen observer of the new trend, told a tech conference in Austin, Texas, recently that he believes we are in ‘the hottest period of invention since the invention of the browser’. Sterling identified two sites – Flickr, the picture-sharing service bought last year by Yahoo – and Wikipedia, the user-generated online encyclopedia. Neither, he told the conference, ‘is a copy of anything else’.