MySpace's death spiral: insiders say it's due to bets on Los Angeles and Microsoft

I’ve been watching the death spiral MySpace is in for a while. Back in December I interviewed CEO Mike Jones onstage at LeWeb. Back then I thought maybe MySpace could pull it out, but since then I’ve learned the MySpace “plane” that’s in a death spiral has increased its velocity — in the wrong direction.

Since talking with Mike in December I’ve been asking people involved what went wrong and two common themes have evolved:

1. Their bet on Microsoft technology doomed them for a variety of reasons.
2. Their bet on Los Angeles accentuated the problems with betting on Microsoft.

Let me explain.

The problem was, as Myspace started losing to Facebook, they knew they needed to make major changes. But they didn’t have the programming talent to really make huge changes and the infrastructure they bet on made it both tougher to change, because it isn’t set up to do the scale of 100 million users it needed to, and tougher to hire really great entrepreneurial programmers who could rebuild the site to do interesting stuff.

Here, let’s go back and watch the video with YFrog’s CEO, Jack Levin. He was one of Google’s first infrastructure employees. Now, consider that Silicon Valley has lots of talent like him. Think about the technology he knows. Hint, it isn’t Microsoft. Microsoft’s technology just isn’t used by many serious web companies that I know. Stack Exchange and PlentyOfFish are two notable exceptions and neither is located in Silicon Valley and they hardly are companies with the scale of MySpace used to have (more than 50 million users).

Workers inside MySpace tell me that this infrastructure, which they say has “hundreds of hacks to make it scale that no one wants to touch” is hamstringing their ability to really compete.

For instance, I asked why MySpace didn’t really do anything great with all the Facebook likes I’ve put into that system (that’s a new feature MySpace added late last year, but it doesn’t seem to work very well). Or, when I asked Mike about how he was going to do something like Aweditorium did, he didn’t have a good answer. They answered with the cameras off: they can’t change their technology to really make new features work or make dramatically new experiences like the one that Aweditorium brought to the iPad. And now that they have laid off a lot of people morale is down and hiring is very tough for them, they tell me.

Which gets me to the Los Angeles issue. There just aren’t “web scale” companies down in Los Angeles, and because Los Angeles is such a large place — it can take hours to drive across the city — there isn’t a single neighborhood that has built up a good talent base, the way Palo Alto or South of Market in San Francisco has.

This bet on Los Angeles doomed MySpace when Facebook came along. Facebook has hired tons of talent from Google and other companies. This expertise helped Facebook not only keep up with scale, but add new features. Just today the QA team at Facebook shipped a cool new feature.

In Silicon Valley company managers, investors, and others have noticed these two things and are actively betting against both. This will make it tough for Microsoft to get its cloud computing strategy to work and will be tough for tech companies (and money) to locate in Los Angeles. It wasn’t lost on me that yesterday when I was at Y Combinator several of the folks involved there bragged that Ashton Kutcher visited the headquarters a few weeks ago.

I remember back when I worked at Microsoft that folks in the evangelism department bragged that they got MySpace to switch to Microsoft technologies like ASP.NET (MySpace used to be on ColdFusion which was an even worse technology bet and was creaking all over the place). Facebook, meanwhile, had made bets on LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and that let them hire quicker and find people who knew how to scale that stuff up big time.

Interesting lessons to watch. What decisions has your company made to accelerate innovation or doom it?

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. I hope this doesn’t turn off too many start-ups from LA, especially ones with an entertainment focus. I’m spread between two worlds it seems, because neither LA nor SF are a sure bet for me.

    1. Entertainment systems probably won’t get to 100 million or more users. So, the engineering talent in LA will probably be just fine for most companies. But not if they really need to scale up. And, the talent is disperse, not located in one neighborhood. So, tough to hire. One strategy might be to have business development in Los Angeles to meet with entertainment execs, and developers somewhere else. Even many SF companies do that. Some teams are needed in SF, others can be located places that aren’t as expensive.

      1. Funny I can’t seem to find a place to comment on the original article. That said, I remember going on MySpace many years ago to look at a Band’s profile, I thought the site was horrible. I don’t know if this was due to the fact that it was Cold-Fusion. Certainly using .NET can’t be blamed for poor architecture and design? (especially the design). I have seen horrible implementations of many technologies, JAVA comes to mind. I heard Facebook at it’s core is all written in C++ now and then render out to a proprietary format like PHP. Good ideas can be helped by technologies, bad ideas can be killed!

        1. I think you have Facebook backwards. They write in PHP and found PHP was too slow. Infact PHP is so slow, they built an interpreter that allows you to compile PHP to navtive c type languages and they released it called Hip Hop.

        2. I think you have Facebook backwards. They write in PHP and found PHP was too slow. Infact PHP is so slow, they built an interpreter that allows you to compile PHP to navtive c type languages and they released it called Hip Hop.

        3. I think you have Facebook backwards. They write in PHP and found PHP was too slow. Infact PHP is so slow, they built an interpreter that allows you to compile PHP to navtive c type languages and they released it called Hip Hop.

        4. I think you have Facebook backwards. They write in PHP and found PHP was too slow. Infact PHP is so slow, they built an interpreter that allows you to compile PHP to navtive c type languages and they released it called Hip Hop.

        5. I think you have Facebook backwards. They write in PHP and found PHP was too slow. Infact PHP is so slow, they built an interpreter that allows you to compile PHP to navtive c type languages and they released it called Hip Hop.

      2. Having been at MySpace, I can tell you it wasn’t the technology or the city. It was Fox.

        Getting bought by Fox sealed Myspace’s fate. After the purchase the goal was set to monetize the site every way possible, trying to build little verticals for every type of ad inventory imaginable… myspace weather myspace cars myspace whatever. They had no real idea of a vision, a direction, or a value proposition for their users.

        Once the threat from Facebook materialized, the lack of real leadership became painfully clear. They began copying and following what Facebook was doing – reacting instead of innovating. Game over.

        It’s too bad. MySpace at one time was THE place for young people to go and express themselves and share their tastes in music. MySpace should have completely owned the music industry. Maybe the “insiders” you’re talking to are using their technology platform or staff as an excuse to cover for their leadership mistakes.

    2. LA is a terrible place for start ups. There just isn’t a cohesive tech community here with the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that exists in places like SF and Boston.

      1. LA GDP = Estimate $792 billion
        SF GDP = Estimated $301 billion*

        Estimates from PWC https://www.ukmediacentre.pwc.com/imagelibrary/downloadMedia.ashx?MediaDetailsID=1562

        I’d say we have plenty of entrepreneurial spirit.

        Although we don’t have the same cohesiveness of the SF/SV tech community, I agree, that is changing.

        There are tons of startups in the LA area blossoming, industry in general down here is better, so saying it’s a terrible place for startups doesn’t hold a lot of water.

  2. So…
    Your analysis of the death of MySapce was well thought out, provided lots of uber-rich west coast insider baseball, super detailed, and is extensively logical. THAT SAID, I think you’re thinking too much about why they failed.

    Clearly:
    1) The majority of MySpace users were not the most tech-savy
    2) They were socioeconomically lower (according to the stats) than that of Facebook (the reason why in #3)
    3) Facebook ripped up the 24 and under crowd b/c it was marketed exclusively to college students (or those with alumni mail).
    4) Frankly, it looked like crap (especially the horrible backgrounds and color schemes self-delusional people, who thought they were layout experts, chose) and PRIMARILY the ad hell MySpace became drove people nuts.
    5) Won the war of tagging photos.

    In short, MySpace ugly, Facebook clean and exclusive.
    Thoughts?

    1. Agree there, but MySpace’s architecture made it very difficult to ship new features and “pivot” once it was clear they were getting their ass kicked.

      1. For sure. In that space, they made a ‘traditional media’ business mistake. Their core competencies relied on others and never scaled in-house, and seemed to completely buckle under the shift to, as @znmeb alludes to, emerging (at the time) technologies like Ruby.

      2. Robert, I too knew MySpace’s model would fail on Zev’s #4 point. It got to where you couldnt load people pages and move around.

        Couldnt MySpace have kicked those add-ins _out_ at that time or was that possible give the architecture you described?

        1. I think they went almost psychotic when music auto-play was on everyone’s page. :)

          That and you couldn’t differentiate between the background and the profile text links that allowed your to “friend” someone else. If you can’t correctly socialize inside a social networking site, you’ve lost!

        2. I doubt they could have done much with the platform at all. From what I was hearing, around the time of the News Corp buy out everyone was just trying their damnedest to keep the site up.

      3. I agree their early infrastructure wasn’t great. I’m not a huge fan of Microsoft technology, but there are many technology stacks out there running .NET which are Web scale and successful (Dell.com is one example), but I think during the Facebook/Myspace race Fox management hindrances were more smothering to their ability to “pivot” as you describe than their technology.

    2. Amen, I remember going on someones page with 100 .gifs and having a page load after 25 seconds. Facebook definitely takes the crown.

  3. Robert, the LAMP stack may be popular but it is far from state of the art. Moreover, other core technologies in multiple languages are springing up – Rails/Ruby, Django/Python, Node.js/JavaScript, LIFT/Scala, YAWS/Erlang, Seaside/Smalltalk, … Heck, you can even write servers in R now (RStudio, Rapache/brew).

    LAMP – especially MySQL and PHP – is as much a dinosaur as .NET, ColdFusion or any of the Java-based server technologies. Personally, I’m betting on Node.js – I think the Java Virtual Machine is a dinosaur too. ;-)

    1. Agreed, but the LAMP folks are the ones using all the newer sexier stuff too. Where’s Microsoft in this conversation? Locked out, that’s what.

      It’s all about talent and getting the techie help to innovate. Those folks aren’t using Microsoft’s systems. So we don’t disagree. ;-)

      1. This somewhat bothers me… In these conversations, we’re speaking as if a .NET solution is limited to the Microsoft ecosystem. In pure MS solutions, you would not find memcached caching, squid reverse proxy cache, lighttpd hosting CDN origin, or any database engine/service other than MS SQL.

        I have worked on several very high traffic sites based on Microsoft technologies, but none of these were pure .NET, but instead were a mixture of technologies, using .NET as the glue.

        Performance and scalability is all architecture related and not based on language, or pre-defined combinations / stacks. Sure, certain languages have specific advantages under certain conditions, but all these are simply variables to account for in your architecture.

        The fact of the matter — developers can basically do anything with any of these popular languages. What they decide to do tends to be limited to their comfort zone. Personally, I have never felt like I couldn’t do something simply because I was using .NET on MS or Mono.

      2. You’re out of your depth, Robert. Using .NET doesn’t exclude using many technologies more often associated with the LAMP stack; moreover, at least two – Apache and PHP – parts of that stack are pretty creaky by themselves. Apache doesn’t scale in the same way as something like nginx, while PHP is just a hack turned into a language.

        .NET is an excellent technology; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it that would stop it from scaling. The issues with it are not technical; primarily licensing costs as a (perceived) barrier to scale. Getting good technical people to work on it isn’t an issue either, as most optimization at this level is in infrastructure, as Dave says, and it’s mostly about caching, geolocation / CDN and specific-purpose data layers, etc., all of which is fairly orthogonal to .NET.

  4. This is a bad analysis. They would have suffered the exact same faith if they’ve gone RoR or PHP. Actually, their destiny was pretty much set once Facebook changed the bar for what a social network should offer and look like. Period.

    BTW, your tweet that .NET wasn’t made for 100 MM users websites shows a lack of understanding of what .NET is. I personally built the MSN Search front-end in 2003 in .NET and we handled 120MM+ uniques a day at that time. It wasn’t even a sweat.

    Finally, there are probably 10 .NET developers for each PHP developer out there. So find talent is a matter of opportunity and competence. MySpace didn’t have/offered either.

    1. And the .NET developers are mostly enterprise folks who don’t like working in rough-and-tumble startup world. Remember, I worked at Visual Studio magazine and had a front-row seat.

      Now, the MSN Search story is an interesting one! Microsoft should have more of us up to hear stories like that! But, seriously, there aren’t many .NET types in Silicon Valley, or in other communities around the world. That’s gotta be troubling to the folks inside Microsoft (I know it was troubling to me back when I worked there and the problem has gotten worse in the past five years).

      1. Yes, that I agree completely. Most .NET devs are enterprise type (& like to play safe). And, yes, I think Microsoft should be (and they are) worried about winning on the startup space. After all, pretty much every tech company on Fortune 500 was a startup. If they don’t bet on startups now, 10 years from now they won’t have the same market share of devs on VS/.NET anymore.

        Interestingly enough, I actually think the .NET-Startup issue is actually getting better. I heard a couple of people at SXSW who are working on pretty popular startups in the Bay Area how they are embracing .NET and .NET developers, because Microsoft is giving so much “love” to them and because the .NET developers are easier to find than other stack developers in SV.

      2. London is crammed full of .NET devs actually, thanks largely in part to its adoption by the BBC and the financial centres, amongst other drivers. Also, London Vogue / GQ / Wired are all on the .NET stack; I know because my team built them. Not MySpace traffic by any stretch, but it gives me an idea how readily available the skillset is for recruiting.

        As for whether these .NET devs are “enterprise folks” or like working in “rough and tumble startup world” I’ve no idea, as I’ve got just as little data as you on which to make such a sweeping generalisation. I do have one fixed datapoint though: I’m now a lead architect at a great, fun company that feels like a lot like a startup to me.

  5. It wasn’t my conclusion, this was the conclusion given to me by folks who used to work (and some who still do work) at MySpace down in Los Angeles.

    1. I agree with that, and there were definitely LA specific industry issues, but the major shift from Chris DeWolfe as chief executive, and then bringing in Van Natta had another culture problem they couldn’t recover from.

      1. I might be biased here ( I do work on Windows Azure :) ). I think your usage of any stack is proportional to the expertise you have in it. If these folks couldn’t find the right folks to deal with the Microsoft stack, I can completely see how this could happen (the same could happen for any competing stack too).

        A lot of the technology is a commodity and are fairly equivalent. And Bing, MSN Messenger, Windows Azure, etc are all living proof that the Microsoft stack can scale to some insane numbers if needed to.

  6. I think putting the blame on Microsoft is totally wrong (I do not work on .Net at present so i have no biases). I think it was a culture at MySpace. I work at a start-up in LA and have many friends at Myspace. It was so often I’d be working late and they’d say apply to a bigger company why work so late. Nothing against those guys but the culture there was go to work at 10-11 and home by 7.

    Maybe those guys worked 10 – 11 hour day back in October but it was too late by then and 10-11 hour days are not long enough in times of crisis.

    LA talent being a problem …huh .. They laid off 500 people. Even if it wasn’t all engineering, they could have at least shipped some product at stages.

    I think the ugly interface and the advertising revenue MySpace went after was the problem other than Clean Facebook. Also the Developers who keep on adding more applications to Facebook. I don’t know if MySpace has/had that capability.
    Basically after becoming huge, MySpace stopped innovation and focused just on revenue and then Facebook Happened.

  7. When MySpace gave their keynote as to why they switched to Microsoft at MIX06, the cited the fact that they could handle the same user load on basically 2/3 the servers (246 -> 150) with a decrease of average CPU load from 85% to 27% to serve pages at their 65 million user load.

    So someone knew what they were doing.

    Also, Hotmail and MSN / Live Messenger services serve over 500 million people a day.

    So, I think it’s more about people, architecture, and business plan.

    If you look at the Facebook growth pattern, they remained focused on a smaller user group and then expanded. Think of how Steve first released the iPhone 1.0 – it didn’t do everything on purpose. But, the release delighted the people it appealed to. Then he added more mass market features people expected from their Boost Mobile phone.

    Facebook then added a developer API up earlier and made it a platform for applications. This signaled a new way to keep users addicted to their site.

    MySpace on the other hand left every profile attribute open so that each page could be a visual atrocity, malware pointer, and generally a terrible, inconsistent and unpleasant user experience. It felt like AOL users writing email in the early 90’s. ALL CAPS and extra /BLINK.

    When MySpace wasn’t busy driving people away from their site visually, they were getting late to the API game after Facebook released theirs and couldn’t find a new way to compel users to come back.

    I think the human element had far more to do with it – Los Angeles could be a factor due to culture or talent availability. But the technology stack is less of an issue if you’re not playing the same game.

    1. think hotmail still runs on linux? MS was trying to get off for a long time and having issues

    2. That’s the thing; the Myspace UX was so poor. You do not foster community with an incoherent design that allows illegibility and puke-inducing tiled animated backgrounds in an endless array of eye-stabbing colors. At the time it gained mainstream traction, Facebook was a relief.

  8. I think most of the stack comparison is valid. However, MS technologies vs. PHP is apples vs. oranges. They used the older MS ASP stack, which definitely had all of the problems that you mention. It was not a good fit for the web. It was stateful (trying to emulate a desktop programming model) and it didn’t play nicely with JavaScript.

    That has all changed with their MVC product. MVC is open source, it’s very strong, and it’s backed by C#, which is an excellent language. There is still the Windows vs. Linux and IIS vs. Apache, nginx, etc. debate. This will change as Mono gets more mature and these other web servers offer better support for it. Then there will be an apples vs. apples comparison.

  9. so the short version of your post is:
    1. microsoft web tech sucks
    2. you can’t build a good web company unless you are located in silicon valley

    is that about it?

        1. Mark Zuckerberg told me that, so sure. :-) To be more accurate he said it would be a lot harder elsewhere to build a webscale company, which is why he moved from Boston to Silicon Valley. I agree with that. GroupOn is probably a good example of a company that got big elsewhere, though, although even they have an office in SF to get some talent they can’t get elsewhere.

  10. From your post, “I remember back when I worked at Microsoft that folks in the evangelism department bragged that they got MySpace to switch to Microsoft technologies like ASP.NET”

    Why wouldn’t they? When you close a big sales deal, you want to brag – same as closing on a house deal, a big sales deal, etc.

  11. All this sounds like is business people with little to no understanding of technology blaming technology , when all along it was lack of innovation and lack of technology people at the top making the decisions. MySpace was always run like an entertainment company. The people making the decisions at the time they chose Microsoft stack were all shills of Microsoft that later got board seats from Fox. Companies with Tech people at the top do better period. And Tom was not a tech person.

  12. Friendster lost its war b/c why???? Friendster wasn’t as good as the next best thing. With or without LA or MSFT technology, MySpace was lost the very moment it sold to News Corp. The true death spiral started at that very moment. If the talent had stayed, such as Richard Rosenblatt and they hadn’t sold themselves off for $670 mm, then many of these issues could have been the excuse. Rosenblatt saw the future and boldy sued mgmt for selling short. With FB at $75B, he was right on.

  13. Robert, you forget that Hotmail (one of the largest scaled services in the world, and currently largest email hosting provider worldwide) runs on Windows. So does Messenger… and while Microsoft isn’t a pure web company, it does run the largest internet services in many categories. Gaming, Email, and real time communications. Also, StackExchange, was founded by Jeff Atwood (with Joel), who does live in Silicon Valley even if FogCreek, is based out of NYC.

    Lets not forget Twitter could not scale at all, and was basically broken. It wasn’t build on Microsoft technology, but they managed to fix it.

    Blaming the software you use for your problems is pretty pathetic. It would have been nice to see you call BS on that.

    1. Of course he won’t. He’s a kissass, thougth not sure I blame him for that. If he went after people like real reporters do, he’d never be given access to those same people again…or they’d be weary of what they’d tell him. Most know he loves to put down MS so they play to him knowing he’ll regurgitate it. It’s all about his brand. He likes to leverage the hell out of the fact he worked at Microsoft with his incessant repeating of that fact. The thing is, just because he worked there doesn’t make him a expert on the subject. Hell half the people that still work there aren’t able to claim that either…nothing bad about them..just that most people in MS rarely TRULY have much experience across the numerous orgs. One of the biggest issues MS has, not enough cross group collaboration.

  14. Disappointing that someone of your caliber blames a technology choice for someone’s failure. ASP, ColdFusion, Ruby, Python etc… they all scale as well as long as the application is well designed and developed.

    I am myself a PROUD ColdFusion developer. We have a vibrant community, an excellent development environment and 2 open source engines (getrailo.org and openbluedragon.org) that are taking off. OpenBD now runs on Google App Engine as well.

    Don’t trash technologies because they are more than 2 years old. Have a fresh new look at ColdFusion and try to understand why it is a smart choice for enterprise, startups and government.

  15. I have to disagree, even if technology and a lack of talent were part of the issue and MySpace’s inability to respond to Facebook, ultimately the user experience is what cost them. Too many freedoms in terms of customizations on myspace led to a pretty horrible experience as you visited page after page of animated GIFs while smart targeting and a much cleaner interface made Facebook a more usable and “enjoyable” experience.

    The redesign last year was too little too late. Brands and more importantly consumers have moved on

  16. I remember an article from a long time ago (can’t find the link though) in which a MySpace employee described that although there were pushes to improve user experience, they’d bump into the NewsCorp “wall” where analysts would ask: “So you want AJAX, how many clicks will this cost?” When they said this would cost a few clicks and page reloads but increase user experience and longer-term engagement, NewsCorp would say no because of the fear of loosing monetizable metrics.

    1. This may be starting a new topic, but this metric of measuring clicks per user (and sites building non-AJAX slideshows to exploit it) needs to disappear. I don’t blame the people who want to win at that, but why do advertisers buy into it?

  17. Great insight – LAMP just works, and it’s a great scalable platform. I’m developing a future facing web site as a “side project”, and I can load on any apps needed on top of that very easily with the knowledge it will scale.

    My developer recommended Rackspace’s Cloud Server, and I must admit I was stunned to find that I can set up a Web 2 environment for the monthly cost of one large latte and a chocolate brownie! That means I pay Starbucks 20 times more per month (assuming one each per day) than I do Rackspace.

    Of course if (When!!!) I get millions of visitors I will have to pay slightly more, but that is the whole point of the Cloud.

    re Microsoft, I had a lot of dealings with them in BT (British Telecom). We created a massive managed Intranet service for medium to large corporations based upon their then current ISP platform only to find that loads of extra coding was needed to create an actual service. When Microsoft did the next release we couldn’t even recognize their software – they dropped all the functionality we had hooked into, and like MySpace, BT were stuck with an inflexible platform and loads of kludgy code that quickly hit the ground with bits of fuselage and passengers everywhere.

    re San Francisco – it’s an interesting question. How do I set up a virtual me there?

    Family and work commitments suggest London is where I need to be for a while longer, at least physically…

    1. I’m sorry your post nearly made me spit tea all over my screen.

      To make a statement like “LAMP just works, and it’s a great scalable platform.” shows a level of nearly total ignorance.

      Scalability doesn’t just magically happen it has to be built as a forethought. You can’t reverse engineer scalability into an application.

      1. I’m glad you weren’t drinking single malt then ;-)

        I confess to not being an expert – I was simply referring to the amount of material and knowledge out there on LAMP in it’s various flavours and versions. It does scale and has been proven to do so (or not if the architecture is wrong)

        If you know how to make LAMP scale then great!

        If you are saying Microsoft scales better than LAMP for large social networking web applications, then I too will have to cover my screen with tea…

  18. Clearly there are examples of building scalable systems on Microsoft’s stack. The issues I think that are more to blame here are not so much Microsoft technology specific as these:
    1) MySpace’s code apparently had a lot of technical debt and from the sounds of things, its architecture was textbook Big Ball of Mud (I’m making an assumption here, but given their answer to repeated questions of “why didn’t you do X” was “We couldn’t change anything because we were afraid the whole pile would collapse” it certainly seems like a valid one).
    2) They made bets on third party software for their core business. You should outsource things that aren’t your core differentiator, but once you outsource your core business, you are guaranteed to be outmaneuvered by your competition.

    I will grant you that finding developers, Microsoft or otherwise, who are able to build software in a way that remains flexible and limits technical debt is challenging. It’s also challenging to find organizations who are willing to invest in their people and processes in order to achieve this. However, if you never pay down your technical debt, eventually it strangles you unless you’re able to simply do a full rewrite of your software whenever it becomes unbearable.

    1. Technical debt, I’ve never heard that phrase before it sounds like something that will be added to vocabulary that’s much more fitting than vague statements about garbage code eventually causing a software system to collapse on itself.

  19. The availability of developers willing to work for MySpace was the biggest issue. Part of that could be because it was .NET but there is way more to the story. Originally MySpace was a coldfusion app – they converted to .NET for performance reasons using a technology called Blue Dragon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlueDragon) which essentially meant they were still writing coldfusion code (at least from my limited understanding of the tech). Are coldfusion developers hard to find? You bet. How about coldfusion developers who want to work in a hybrid coldfusion/.NET environment? Impossible. They should have done a from scratch rewrite when they still had the chance to compete with Facebook.

  20. Not to sound like a know it all but…I find your entire story to be a bunch of crap.

    You’re overlooking the more obvious reason for its decline: False user base.

    For years now MySpace has been overrun with accounts designed with the sole purpose to spam people.

    If you were to look at the entire user base and IP trace each individual account you would probably find that 50-70% of the users all share the exact same IP addresses.

    Even the people that don’t create multiple accounts to spam about their crap use their main one to spam people.

    The entire site was built on the notion of “popularity” and completely superficial relationships.

    This lead to people doing noting to preserve any sort of intimacy between one another.

    From the first day I signed up (and I was one of the first…my profile was in all my friends Top 8 list on their profile up until you could customize your top friends) I would be bombarded with friend requests for the sole purpose of a user claiming they have the most friends.

    This lead to companies and people not caring about how they interacted with one another and lead to constant spam via messages and bulletin board posts and the most annoying comments with digital fliers wrecking your layout and vibe.

    It spun out of control.

    I think if I were to go on the site right now maybe 1-2% of my friends that are active on the site would actually have a discussion with me. No one checks their messages or expects them to be anything personal or meaningful. It is just one advertisement or plug after another.

    Why are you wasting your time and others trying to over think the problem that caused the decline of myspace when there is something far more obvious and important to discuss and be aware of if you or anyone else wishes to be successful in social media today.

    That sort of bullshit won’t fly these days. The passionate and transparent and intimate glimpses into human nature is what will lead to success from here on out.

    If for no other reason than MySpace has sickened us all and made us realize we can’t survive without those things.

  21. Well I live “down here” and I put the head of recruiting in after the NewsCorp acquisition and scaling up the talent was indeed a challenge, but not for lack of technical abilities of the 500 employees. The article and comments suggest that there’s a dearth of talent in SoCal and that’s absolutely not true. MySpace struggled to assimilate into the NewsCorp culture and the internal organization was chaotic. But there was also no “social template” to follow. FB truly took social media to a new level and not by design either! FB’s open API was one of the main reasons it took off and MySpace stagnated. Yes, the technology lagged, but overall the site was always functional. Users weren’t vortexing away from the site because of technology complaints, it was because of the new kid on the block that had a shinier bike, and that will always be the case. They could come to FB from a variety of apps and bolt on whatever they wanted. Lack of innovation, dismissiveness of the competition, limited product roll-outs, too much turmoil at the top, technical issues, but don’t blame it on the lack of technical talent here in L.A. as if anywhere but Silicon Valley is to be on the B-list to use a Hollywood term (pun intended)!

  22. Seems to me from what I remember, they ran on an old version of ColdFusion for quite a while. I had also read back in the day, that their code base wasn’t really what you would have called efficient… I heard it was a mess. Code that won’t scale properly won’t magically change.

    I know they had migrated to a CFML engine that was tightly tied into .NET when they moved away from their outdated ColdFusion version (5 I believe)… but even still…. running un-scalable or hard to maintain code in any environment where scaling becomes an issue…. is doomed to fail.

  23. That last paragraph kills me. It doesn’t matter if it was ColdFusion, .NET, PHP, or Ruby. The fact is, the applications scalability is determined by the skill of the developers writing the code. I’ve written highly scalable applications in ColdFusion for over a decade, and if anything the technology has improved immensely, with OS CFML engines also available to those who don’t need the enterprise feature set provided by Adobe. MySpace moved to BlueDragon.NET to run CFML apps on a .NET server, in the hopes that the native libraries would handle their problems, and do slow conversion, but never adjusted base development practice (bad practice on one platform isn’t going to improve by switching to another).

    Some things grow too fast, and if you’re working with the “Big Ball of Mud” design pattern (Google it), eventually it will fall off the wall. It’s a problem that has been faced by Facebook, Twitter, and countless others, but they had the forethought to adapt, refactor, and include scalability as part of their core model.

  24. Generalizing that LA as a location and Microsoft and Adobe (ColdFusion) as technology caused the failure of MySpace is a cop-out. Come on, Scoble – you are smarter than that!

    They lost because they didn’t master the business. Technology does not cause companies to win or lose: bad management does. If a company has great management, they can overcome poor technology issues. But technology (good or poor) cannot save poor management.

  25. Having been in a position where I was able to work with some of the programmers who worked at MySpace, the issue wasn’t the engine (weither it was on ColdFusion or .NET), it was the enviroment they choose to breed for their developers.

    Management would say “We need X feature NOW to remain competitive”. They would then select a group of developers to implement that feature. The biggest problem was they didn’t allow the develoeprs to have staging or testing servers — they deployed on the production servers on the first go-around. Sometimes these developers were given 5 or 10 projects that they had to deploy in very little time. And all this with no change management or control. No versioning either.

    MySpace management never wanted to go back and review code or make it more efficient. Their solution was “more servers”. They ended up hiring a crew who’s sole job was to install more servers. Meanwhile they had developers checking in buggy code and they were racking up technical debt at an alarming rate. At the time MySpace was running two major versions of their application server behiend what was recommended for use. When Microsoft & New Atlanta came around, they jumped at the idea to essentially sell off their technical debt (like a mortgage to a financial firm), and have somebody else take care of their problem.

    The problem then was Microsoft was not updating their old code, they simply were adding new features on .NET. This didn’t solve their problems and left them in a situation where they still needed to fix the old stuff, all the while updating new code.

    The issue with MySpace was this : they are a classic example of when you don’t listen and you accumilate too much technical debt. Fixing old stuff should be a priority, and doing things like change management, version control, testing and development servers, etc. are all a must. This is why the bookface is able to deploy new changes with little impact — they have everything tested and proofed out before they let their actual users play with it.

  26. Robert:

    I won’t go on the attack regarding your statements about ColdFusion. Rather I’d invite you to take another look at it and see how far it’s grown since the MySpace days. I can arrange for you to meet up with some Adobe employees or ColdFusion gurus (including some performance tuning specialists) who would be more then happy to show you how Adobe stands behind it and how it can scale. The future is bright and there are many exciting features planned (including jQuery integration, HTML5 features, swapping out JRun for Tomcat). I think it would surprise you and you could definitely help spread the good word!

  27. I take exception to your statement ” (MySpace used to be on ColdFusion which was an even worse technology bet and was creaking all over the place).”

    Crappy code is crappy code and will not perform well whether its written in Java, , PHP, Rails,(gasp!) ASP, or (even more horrors!) C#. And from what I saw during a presentation by the MySpace people at a CF conference was that MySpace was mostly crappy and redundant code. In the Q and A section after the preso they were taken to task with that. Their solution – throw more hardware at the problem or increase the kludge.

    So it is really a load of bull blaming CF for MySpace. Well written code peforms well under high load and stress. Poorly written code never performs well. I’ve developed complex sites using ColdFusion that have very well performed even when handling hundreds of simultaneous users.

    I think you owe the community a retraction after that slimy and gratuitous dig.

  28. The problems with MySpace is lack of vision and management. They faced many points of inflection and didn’t have the courage to push through them. Everyone has to deal with limits in their technology, everyone. The technology isn’t the problem so much as how people use and manage it. ColdFusion would work just fine today as would ASP.NET if the right people are in place to build the proper scaling into the application.

    People seem to forget FB had growing pains too. They were lucky in a few ways. First, they got some major financing early on and they controlled they’re growth by going from one college campus to another. That was very smart. Third, the technology and experience was in place. As the challenges came up, their were experienced people there to handle them. FB succeeded because people had learn from the mistakes in the earlier years. FB will make mistakes too, that others will learn from – that’s pretty much the history of the Internet since its beginnings.

  29. Scoble you should know better than to blame the language when it’s those writing the code. For example here’s a guy using five Windows servers running ColdFusion that’s handling 48,000 concurrent users:

    http://www.cfwhisperer.com/post.cfm/coldfusion-9-and-48-000-concurrent-users

    Properly architected ColdFusion systems can scale as well as match or beat any other language in terms of rapid application development. Now that open source distributions are available there’s no valid argument that ColdFusion isn’t a perfectly valid choice for any project.

    I agree with the other commenters you owe ColdFusion an apology.

  30. While the shots at Microsoft and ColdFusion are probably in bad taste (I’m a LAMP developer personally) I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the real problem that Robert described: the talent who could help MySpace scale and/or refactor their infrastructure given their choice of tech stack just wasn’t available where they were. Like it or not, there are more people around with the skills to scale LAMP-backed architectures than MS-based ones who are willing to work for companies similar to MySpace.

    Add to it their choice of a location where a pool of young and hungry programmers and/or engineers eager to be part of the startup scene is very small, well, it looks like a perfect storm of problems.

    I’m sure there are sites using MS tech that are handling large amounts of traffic. I’m sure there are sites using ColdFusion that scale just. But it’s far easier to find people to help scale systems running on Linux-based systems and services. And when your company relies on pouncing on opportunities to change for it’s continued success, you’re screwed if you don’t have access to a large number of people with the skills you need.

    I have much respect for people who have built well-crafted apps on whatever stack they use.

  31. I worked at MySpace on the MDP ( MySpace Developer Platform ) team. My team, MySpaceID, was the one that implemented Oauth 1, 2, 2.0a and all of the external REST libraries. We worked closely with the activity streams team and the OpenSocial Team. We also launched the MySpace JSL or MySpace Connect. We were the 1st to do a popup login flow for OpenID and several other cool things MySpace was doing to catch Facebook. We might have done it if Google did not pull the money.

    Once the free parking was pulled from MySpace, 50% of every team was laid off and all of the momentum was pulled from the company.

    Working with .Net was not an issue, and in some cases it was a benefit.

    There were however huge cultural problems with FOX. Here are a few.

    Developers used were given one display, not two. Screens were 1280×1024. I bought my own displays and had my manager order a custom computer for me with dual video card support.

    Fox was a closed source company, and so when we were working on Open Tech like Oauth and OpenSocial gadget servers, we had to do it as closed source software. We had no peer review. It made it really hard to ship and test something when you don’t have linkedin, google, bebo, and twitter reviewing your code. On top of that when those companies found a bug, we had to re-implement that code in .Net. On top of that MySpace and .Net were well designed for strong typing and those types work a bit different than Java.

    It didn’t take a lot of time to port so, we kept doing it, but you have to think about this, you are at a race with a company like Facebook who had zero profit motive at the time, and billion in funding and a ground up stack. Meanwhile MySpace was just clearing out cold-fusion and we had really old blogging platforms that could not just get ripped out.

    We also had management that didn’t want to piss off users and so we would have 2 or 3 versions of the site out there, and we required users to upgrade to new versions.

    What MySpace had was Cultural Debt, and a fear of destroying what they had. Facebook won because they were Socratic to the core.

  32. The fact that insiders blame the platform is very telling. That tells me that the problem was not the platform (it hardly ever is), but instead the organizational culture and practices.

  33. I think you’re dismissing LA too quickly, although you have valid points. The one interesting thing I see in LA is the life/work balance, and the desire to be in entertainment. I think that might have some issues.

    But you can’t dismiss the community in LA – or the companies down here that are doing well. But a lot of them are content plays.

    And while bashing on MySpace is easy, I think the death of MySpace has as much to do with Twitter than Facebook for fans to interact with celebrities (or, more importantly, vice versa). You never saw those huge numbers of “friends” on MySpace pages as you do on Follows on Twitter. That real engagement, real-life access is what hurt MySpace. But MySpace still trumped Facebook on that entertainment aspect.

  34. The reasons for the death spiral at MySpace has nothing to do with technology. Is has everything to do with human issues. Once Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson left, a lot of the key leadership followed. Also, a lot of the creatives (product managers, devs, artists, etc.) saw executives leaving and decided it was a good time to try something else. Too much institutional knowledge left too quickly, and that sabotaged MySpace.

  35. These are asinine conclusions. And the funny thing is that you actually had the reason for the issues: “…They can’t change their technology to really make new features work or make dramatically new experiences.” Didn’t you learn anything at Microsoft? That’s the mark of poor system design, and poor design is agnostic of any platform. Quantcast says that microsoft.com is the 9th most visited domain on the planet. Do you think they’re using the LAMP stack for that?

    Besides, you missed the most obvious reasons for MySpace’s failure: It sucked. It always sucked. It just took Facebook to open its doors beyond universities for most people to realize it.

  36. This is a ridiculous analysis when it comes to .net technologies. To say it can’t scale and is inflexible is exhibiting absolutely no understanding of what you are talking about. I have worked on financial apps built in .net that easily rival transactions on Facebook, which truthfully, is hardly a good comparison since the consistency requirements in Facebook are far less stringent than what they are in a financial app.

    However, a bad app that is impossible to scale without being written from scratch can easily be written in asp.net (or the older webforms technology). It can also be poorly written in PHP or Ruby or anything else. However, this is not an indication of the underlying technologies but rather the programming team.

    As for finding good programmers, MySpace’s morale plummeted way before people were laid off. The problems started when they lost a lot of core people at the same time. It had nothing to do with the technology stack. Startups in Silicon Valley get good programmers at low costs because the technologies they use allow them to not have to compete against large corporations that are willing to pay their average programmers in the 6 figures (at least in NY). I know 5 .net architects who earn north of $450k per year. They do so because they are in charge of building software that moves tens of billions of dollars PER day. Of course, they don’t receive stock options but I think they would rather have the hard cold cash. If I were a startup, one of the reasons I would NOT go with .net is because of the dearth of good programmers I can find under $100k. However, this is not because the technologies suck or are unglamorous but because many of the better programmers are better compensated with more secure jobs than they can find in a silicon valley startup.

    And to say that MySpace is an indictment of Microsoft’s cloud technologies is another crazy jump. I have deployed large, scalable apps on both Amazon and Azure and I like both for different reasons. My experience is that the performance of Azure is measurably better than Amazon. This is probably a function of lesser usage since it is newer, but also because it can focus on a smaller, more finely defined tech stack. The fact that Hotmail runs on the same infrastructure and drives far more email than Google is a testament to the fact that it can scale.

  37. so we can all pretty much agree that scoble is dead wrong on this right?

    it sounds to me like typical baiting when the story is more about a poorly run business making really bad decisions… why focus on the tech when it’s obviously not the problem (as pointed out by a myspace employee a few posts above me?)

  38. What a pathetic piece of journalism, Scoble. The fundamental problem with MySpace was the product design, not the engineering. When I was there, I found MySpace engineers to be top notch, but I would weep at the thought of the product design. This much should be obvious to anyone who bothers to do any proper research. Scoble, your piece is so pathetic, I’m unfollowing you on Twitter as of right now.

  39. MySpace’s problems were systemic, not system. Unprofessional dev org. Political infighting. Litigation. They were never a Silicon Valley company, they were a LA company born of porn, spam and malware that WANTED to be a Hollywood company — they had a rotten tech core while they greedily pursued glitz and glamour.

  40. It’s hilarious, watching this Scoble fellow attempt to expound upon the virtues of one stack versus another. He obviously knows very little about the subject and would do less damage to his credibility if he blogged about pastries instead.

  41. “Start-ups are by nature bootstrapped with lower-cost or free solutions”

    Which is why Microsoft created the BizSpark program that allows you as a startup to have access to the very top of the line tools and products that would have been out of cost reach.

  42. These ARE asinine conclusions, not that such is anything new. MySpace was horrid 1996 all GeoCitiesish when it first started, and never changed, and never had any ‘real-world’ spill-over like Facebook does. Product design, org sructure, spam as an art form, courting garage bands as the ticket, brain drain…long list before you even get to platform or location.

  43. Speculation and conjecture. Anyone who was here longer than a couple of years knows more or less exactly what combination of elements lead to our downfall. Hindsight is 20/20 and it was NOT because of the .NET stack — in fact it’s the main thing that kept us going at peak! Whatever technology you’re using doesn’t matter if your processes aren’t in line and the product vision isn’t on track.

    I’m starting to have little hope for this short-term world where business plans and execution are COMPLETELY overlooked in lieu of which tech buzzword/language you’re implementing. FOCUS, people.

    1. Don’t be defensive Rob, it wasn’t your fault, but you have to know in your heart that your peers were totally garbage. Most of the .Net devs in Los Angeles are mediocre financial service types. Not suitable for the fast moving web 2.0 environment. .Net wasn’t the sole problem, and no one said it was. But it was a big factor in the low quality talent pool.

  44. Interesting article, but it doesn’t seem to consider a lack of vision – strategic direction (call it what you will) – as being a problem. Not a lot of point having the right technology or even the right people if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it.

  45. Mr. Scobleizer,

    Such analysis will attract readers in short term, but over time your credibility will be gone.
    And since this is a blog and not news reporting, answers like “all I am saying is that somebody from MySpace told me so” are unacceptable.
    Please think more before writing such things.