The Internet has finally begun to fracture along socio-economic "class" lines and the results are apparent on the main social networking sites. The latest thinking from social networking investigator danah boyd posits that for a number of reasons a class divide has emerged between MySpace and Facebook with upper/middle class kids gravitating to Facebook and marginalised youth left behind on MySpace. (Perhaps coincidentally, in the same week Fox is said to be either trying to either sell or cash in MySpace for a share of Yahoo!.) Today I am thinking about whether Fox's response to this cultural shift - the obvious, default response to the most superficially valuable users of its social networking site defecting to a competitor - is the correct one, and edging towards the conclusion that it is not.
The reasons given in danah's paper for the MySpace/Facebook class split are several, including the way (and the timing) in which each site was spun by media to the public; the fact that Facebook started life as a college network and therefore built networks out of people who knew college graduates; and the cultural split between the clean , "West Elm or Pottery Barn" look of Facebook and the messier "Las Vegas" bling of MySpace.
It also seems likely, building on danah's previous work into the popularity of MySpace, that the reasons people originally adopted MySpace - "identity production and socialisation" - are better reflections on MySpace of the cultural needs of socially marginalised youth. MySpace is messy and loud and represents a (virtual) public space to socialise free of adult or other official scrutiny. Or in other words, MySpace looks like a public space given over to graffiti and intrusive music, the sorts of self-expression we are accustomed to seeing from sections of the disaffected. By contrast Facebook looks like a parade of well-ordered private homes reflecting the achievements and aspirations of the householders. It would be a gross oversimplification to say that some people try to leave their mark on the world by building businesses and homes and that others try to leave their mark on the world by scribbling graffiti on those businesses and homes: nonetheless, this appears to be the social/cultural division playing itself out across MySpace and Facebook.
Increasingly sophisticated targeting and growth of the freeconomic economy makes audience segmentation and targeting more important than ever. Does this mean, therefore, that Facebook will be able to command a premium from advertisers in future? Perhaps. But perhaps the exact opposite. More on this later.