The techno-pundit circuit has been good enough to provide detailed explanations of what went wrong with MySpace along with lots of advice about what MySpace needs to do now. All this intelligence made all the more accurate given their perfect 20/20 hindsight vision.
But most answers I read seemed fuzzy and unclear until, that is, I met up with the 16 year old son of a colleague who happened to be in our office one day.
This fresh faced young man came in with his expected teenage uniform – jeans, t-shirt and his PC. He was quietly but intensely doing something on his PC when I started to talk about how we use our Paltalk Facebook group and I must have snagged the young man’s attention because he lifted his head in interest. Seeing an opportunity to learn from him, I started to ask him what he thought of Facebook. “Oh, he said, “all of us in school are on Facebook now. Yeah”, and then he added on his own, “we all stopped going to MySpace. No one ever uses their real name on MySpace.”
In that one exchange I understood what went wrong for MySpace and in my view, that 16 year old accurately put his finger on the heart of the problem (all the high paid consultants notwithstanding). MySpace simply failed to find ways to help users establish connections that “stick”, connections born of a trusted bond. As a result, MySpace became a haven for spammers, causing a loss of more trust and the decline trust spiral began.
Before you skeptics reject the simplicity of this answer, consider MySpace’s fate with that of Facebook and the answer becomes easier to fathom. Facebook started as a way for college kids to connect with their trusted peers (trusted only in the sense that they went to the same university – but hey – trust is fluid depending on the context). These students already shared a trust bond, they were already part of trusted community and Facebook provided the platform that let people create these “trusted”, sticky connections. Further, as Facebook grew, it was able to attract a mass audience because it expanded by staying true to its very DNA – its ability to let people make trusted connections. It was a killer strategy and a risky move, but it is now paying off just as, paradoxically, MySpace seems to be feeling its way through the digital dark.
If one tests this theory to see how it stands up in real life, we see this principle operating at many of the most successful social networks out there. For example, LinkedIn thrives as a professional network because you invite “trusted connections” and video based communities achieve a higher level of trust than a text chat community because one can see who one is talking to. These are just a few different strategies to achieve a similar goal – create ways that let people make trust bonds with each other and within communities.
The core concept I am advocating is that we learn to transform online trust from something we do to avoid digital harm into something we can expect in a next generation web. I am advocating that, like Facebook began, we learn to create the trusted digital society of tomorrow.
In fact, I favor the name the Trusted Web for the next gen web in the hopes that injecting trust as a proactive expectation of the internet is a requirement that should drive our innovations.
People joining together to make a difference is what trusted communities are all about. Trusted communities are something we all need to help create together – for all of us in technology, education, government and business.
The ties that bind are the one based on trust. Let’s help shape what that means in the next generation web – The Trusted Web.