es Trent Lapinski's exposť about MySpace (digest version here) read like a
conspiracy theory? Sure. Does our boss think it's over-outraged? Sure, but you
can't trust him, he believes in the lone gunman and a real moon landing. Buy the
anger or not, this guest feature story is a great read for those of us who are
goddamn sick of Tom, Tom, Tom.
By Trent Lapinski
By now, everyone knows what MySpace is--or at least, they think they do. The
generally held assumption is that MySpace is a social networking site: "a place
for friends," as their slogan puts it. In reality, MySpace is the next
generation of marketing, advertising and promotion, exquisitely disguised as
social networking. Simply put, MySpace.com is Spam 2.0.
Spam in Sheep's Clothing
On July 11th, 2006, Hitwise reported that MySpace had "surpassed Yahoo! Mail
as the most visited domain on the Internet for US Internet users." Clearly,
MySpace has become almost ubiquitous--everyone and their mom have a profile up,
from the fourteen-year old girl next door to
Tom Anderson himself--one
of the site's founders and every MySpace user's number one "friend"--has over
109 million pals with profiles, and that's just today; by next week that number
could easily have increased by millions. What's interesting is that most users
don't know that Tom Anderson is more of a PR scheme than anything else--the
mascot designed to give a friendlier feel to a site created by a marketing
company known for viral entertainment websites, pop-up advertising, spam,
spyware, and adware.
Most users believe that MySpace started as some kind of fluke--a happy
accident that began in Anderson's bedroom or garage--and many still don't
wonder, know, or care about the site's real business history and model. Heralded
as a haven of DIY self-expression, MySpace was actually created by executives
whose backgrounds are anchored in spam and mass marketing, and who are tied to
investment scandals. With his almost alternateen good looks, Tom Anderson has
served as an exceptionally convincing distraction. The PR campaign is one of
MySpace's two strokes of genius, brilliant, but not groundbreaking.
The real genius of MySpace lies in it's re-imagining and repackaging of spam.
While most internet users expend time and energy attempting to keep it out,
MySpace is spam that they actually invite in.
Internet spam originated as classic, straight-up, unwelcome,
in-your-face-and-inbox advertising and marketing. At its worst, it comes from
"Nigerian Bankers" and swindlers peddling Viagra, and more likely than not, this
early incarnation of spam--we'll call it Spam 1.0--is lurking in your inbox
right now. eUniverse, the company that essentially created MySpace, was a
pioneer in this field. Headed by CEO, founder, and Chairman Brad Greenspan,
eUniverse (now Intermix Media), was a multimillion-dollar marketing and
entertainment company known for sites like Skilljam.com, pop-up advertising,
unsolicited mass emails, spyware, and the adware behind controversial
peer-to-peer file sharing network Kazaa.
Also essential to the creation of MySpace is current CEO Chris DeWolfe, who
from October 1999 through March 2001 acted as the VP of Sales and Marketing at
Xdrive Technologies, Inc., a company that offered millions of users large
amounts of free online storage during the dot-com bubble. The business of
"free," while not necessarily a lucrative enterprise for an online file storage
company, would prove to be an essential building block of Spam 2.0 and MySpace.
As a source close to DeWolfe at Xdrive put it, "DeWolfe learned that people will
sign up for almost anything that they find useful, and they could care less
about the fine print."
Xdrive hit hard times when the dot-com bubble burst, and in March of 2001,
DeWolfe was laid off along with his entire marketing department. He quickly set
up a new email marketing firm named ResponseBase. DeWolfe recruited and hired
most of Xdrive's former marketing team for this endeavor--specifically, the
employees who had been responsible for the production of Xdrive's email-based
newsletter called "Intelligent X." At its peak at Xdrive, 8 million users
subscribed to "Intelligent X."
Tom Anderson, the eventual face of MySpace. was originally hired as a
copyeditor in DeWolfe's marketing department at Xdrive, and accompanied DeWolfe
to ResponseBase when Xdrive laid them both off.
DeWolfe's new company, ResponseBase, was purchased by eUniverse on September
9, 2002. At the time of the purchase, ResponseBase had upwards of 30 million
e-mail addresses at their disposal. This partnering of ResponseBase and
eUniverse was the moment of inception for MySpace, although at the time neither
DeWolfe nor Greenspan knew what path they were on, and the actual, conscious
conjuring of it wouldn't happen until later.
In terms of future visibility and pseudo-celebrity status--Tom Anderson, the
friendly face of MySpace and every member's number one "friend" stayed with
DeWolfe at eUniverse.
Also of interest, the acquisition of ResponseBase by eUniverse involved a
finance partnership, TTMM, LP., consisting of Andrew Wiederhorn and his wife
Tiffany. Wiederhorn was a high school classmate and past business associate of
DeWolfe's, and in the late 90s DeWolfe was VP of Marketing at First Bank of
Beverly Hills, a co. of WFSG purchased by Wiederhorn's former company Wilshire
Financial Services Group. In late 2002, DeWolfe joined Fog Cutter Capital Group,
Wiederhorn's new investment operation. At this time, Wiederhorn was under legal
investigation for his activities with Wilshire Financial Services Group, and as
of August 2004, Wiederhorn began an 18-month jail sentence for felony charges.
Despite Wiederhorn's predicament, he kept a seat on the board. Donald Berchtold,
Tiffany's stepfather, was temporary CEO while Wiederhorn was in jail. The
investment group put Wiederhorn on a "leave of absence" and paid him an annual
salary of $350,000 while he sat in federal prison. FCCG had a 3-year contract
with Wiederhorn starting in 2003 wih an annual salary or $350,000 plus bonus.
Ultimately, Wiederhorn served only 13 months in jail and upon his release, after
completing mandatory work program, he received a $2 million bonus to cover
restitutions from Fog Cutter Capital Group and resumed his duties as chief
DeWolfe left Fog Cutter Capital Group just a few months before Rupert
Murdoch's News Corporation purchased MySpace.
The MySpace that we know was conceived about a year after the 2002 launch of
Friendster. Preceded and influenced by Ryze, a social networking site which
focused on business, Friendster offered a new twist: the site connected people
through networks of friends for the specific purpose of dating and making new
In August of 2003, Brad Greenspan received and accepted an invitation to join
Friendster from Chris DeWolfe, who had been a member since June 2003. Once Chris
DeWolfe, Tom Anderson, and other eUniverse employees had all set up Friendster
accounts, the ball was rolling. Recognizing the potential of the Friendster
concept, a plan was hatched to quickly mimic the appealing features of the site,
re-brand it as MySpace, and then out-market them using eUniverse's resources.
According to internal emails and documents provided by Brad Greenspan and sent
between eUniverse executives and the team at MySpace, DeWolfe's squad worked
fast: MySpace 1.0 was ready within ten days. As part of the internal testing and
promotion of the site, the company held a contest to see who could sign up the
most people. The hope was that if all 250 eUniverse employees brought on 10
friends, they would have a starting user base of 2,500. Even self-proclaimed
loner Tom Anderson took part, stating in an email, "I am as anti-social as they
come, and I've already got 20 people to sign up."
So it happened that MySpace essentially blossomed into Spam 2.0 out of seeds
planted by DeWolfe during his Spam 1.0 days. eUniverse's business was booming
when MySpace launched, so in retrospect it's almost endearing to learn how
tentatively they tested and promoted the site. Considering the resources of
connectivity that the project started with, MySpace was arguably assured a
strong launch. At that point, eUniverse had over 50 million email addresses in
their database, as well as over 18 million monthly web users. Originally,
DeWolfe's business model was intent on selling accounts to MySpace, but it was
Greenspan who proposed to keep MySpace free and to make profit through
advertising. Greenspan and eUniverse even cannibalized valuable existing
websites they owned, such as their paid dating service, CupidJunction--a top
dating website with over 3 million users. Members at CupidJunction were
encouraged to set up free MySpace accounts. Unfortunately, Greenspan was forced
out of the company soon after MySpace's launch.
With the site quickly gaining popularity, and Greenspan no longer providing
integral direction, DeWolfe and the MySpace team moved to create a false PR
story that would best reflect the ideals and tastes of its growing demographic.
They wanted to prevent the revelation that a Spam 1.0 company had launched the
site, and created the impression that Tom Anderson created the site, and the lie
The venture, of course, turned out to be a huge success. MySpace has spawned
an incredibly successful twist on the age-old art of self-promotion,
allowing--even encouraging--the marketing of everything from bands to businesses
on their site. Essentially, they've opened up a channel through which to solicit
and promote everyone and everything--most importantly the individual. The whole
site is, in essence, a marketing tool that everyone who registers has access to.
Users constantly receive spam-like messages from said bands, business, and
individuals looking to add more "friends" (and therefore more potential fans,
consumers, or witnesses) to their online identity. A testament to this strange
new social paradigm is the phrase "Thanks for the Add," a nicety offered when
one MySpace user "adds" another as a "friend."
Best yet, to use the site, members must log in, causing them to inadvertently
view advertisements, and then read their messages on a page with even more
advertisements. In the world of MySpace, spam is earth, air, fire, and water.
Super Publics and the Wisdom of Crowds
As for Brad Greenspan, who had offered his resources and full-fledged
support, sought capital for the site. He was superseded by two eUniverse
executives situated below him--Brett Brewer and Chris Lipp--who enabled an
investment group named Vantage Point to assume a majority of preferred stock in
eUniverse through defrauding stockholders. Once Vantage Point was in control,
Greenspan was forced out of his position, maintaining 30% of shares in the
company at the time, and only held 10% of the company by the time MySpace and
Intermix Media (eUniverse) were eventually bought by News Corp. Various other
corporate dramas have ensued, including the sale of Intermix Media (formerly
eUniverse, and the umbrella company to MySpace) to Rupert Murdoch's News
Corporation in a deal that has been described as a cash-out merger as a result
of an unfair process and at an unfair price. Somewhat justifying suspicions,
Viacom (the company that owns MTV) went on the record stating, "It's fair to say
that we had an opportunity to participate in the process [of purchasing
MySpace]. We looked closely at MySpace, but didn't fit our financial filters."
Further justifying suspicions, The New York Times recently reported that Chris
DeWolfe, Tom Anderson, and other MySpace employees now employed by News Corp.
received multimillion-dollar bonus payments "to smooth the feelings that were
ruffled when Intermix was sold, dragging MySpace along with it against the will
of its founders, who received only a small portion of the sale price."
Base business details and corporate scandals aside, the crucial story here is
how a site built on a foundation of spam has become one of the most culturally,
socially, and technologically influential websites in the history of the
Internet. To their credit--and an important key to the site's popularity--the
MySpace team has intuitively gone with the flow, treating their users as
co-developers (whether by luck or by wisdom), and allowing network effects from
user contributions to steer their evolution in many ways--a fundamental
difference between both Web 1.0/2.0, and Spam 1.0/2.0.
A social paradigm has shifted with the tipping of MySpace. It's incredible to
consider, but Spam--as negative a connotation as it has--has morphed to enable
and fuel the massive development of an incredible Super Public. Tom Anderson and
Chris DeWolfe may not even fully recognize the fantastic longitude and latitude
at which they stand.
It's no wonder that a site this popular has been a consistent newsmaker,
repeatedly finding itself at the center of various controversies. MySpace has
become a sort of Super Public portal--entry to a world defined by an
ever-changing digital architecture that creates pathways for connection between
individuals who might otherwise (even elsewhere on the internet) never have met.
In addition to facing accusations of not sufficiently protecting its underage
users and subsequently being sued for thereby enabling sexual assault, MySpace
has inspired debate over free speech from high school students to porn stars.
What truly remains to be seen is not the repercussions of misleading PR
campaigns or bad business deals, but whether MySpace teens will fall victim like
Narcissus to the worship and distortion of their own (and others') online
reflections, or if they will lead the way in navigating a new world comprised of
Super Publics, where old cultures collide, and new cultures are born.
Click here to enter in Myspace