One of the things I've always loved about my job is interacting with users on a daily basis. Not only do I enjoy it personally, but it's been a key factor in our success. I can't think of another company where the customers have such a direct feedback loop to a senior executive. If I make a mistake, I hear about it. It takes all of about 10 minutes from the launch of a feature for me to know whether we did it right or whether we failed miserably. Almost everything we've created with MySpace came from users telling me what they wanted.
The MySpace Developer Platform has been something of an anomaly in that regard. Users were scared of it before it even arrived. Before the platform launched, users told me they didn't want to get spammed, and that they chose MySpace over other sites because they weren't getting poked, and nobody was throwing sheep at them. Every social network--from Bebo & Orkut, to Friendster & Facebook has "apps" now. Most of the feedback I received was that users were sick of it. As one forthright user put it: "apps suck!"
What these users' anxieties and concerns did not take into account is that MySpace has always been a platform. MySpace has always had "apps." From MySpace's inception, we've benefited from the creativity and resourcefulness of both our users and third-party companies. It's MySpace users creativity that led to profile customization and created the entire ecosystem now known as MySpace "layouts." It's YouTube that gave users the kind of video player they wanted on MySpace. It's Photobucket, Slide and RockYou that gave MySpace users the kind of tools they needed to share their photos. There were widgets similar to Honesty Box and Graffiti on MySpace before many other social networks even got started, but with a key difference: those widgets did not have the unchecked messaging capability that has made other platforms so painful.
It was by viewing the terrain from this broad perspective that we decided to move forward, for the first time, with something our users were not expressly asking for. We believed that customized profiles, widgets and applications provided real value to users. In the past, we'd just gotten out of the way and let it happen. With the plan for the MySpace Developer Platform, we set out to provide the tools that would ease this kind of development and facilitate better, more useful features for MySpace users. But we also knew we had to take a measured, cautious approach to app communication, or the platform wouldn't work.
Because MySpace was so open from the beginning, security and spam had always been a concern for us. We tried to allow users to do anything they wanted, while stopping them from getting "p0wned". We were forced to block companies and code at different times, and no one understood our reasons. We were not public about our "rules" and our actions, because we focused on the users, not the developers. That was clearly a mistake.
With the launch of MDP, we've tried to change that. We've been very public about what we are doing, when we are doing it and why. I've said very little about the platform until now, because, I simply don't like to do press, interviews, or write about our plans in this way. There are many people at the company far better at communicating with our partners than I am. But I thought speaking now was important because this blog post is meant to represent the voice of the users to the development community. What users want is something I've lived with daily for 5 years now, and I am best qualified to make these statements.
Balancing the needs of a community is never an easy job. There are many constituents, all with their own needs and desires. The needs of the few cannot outweigh the needs of the many. (I always wanted to quote Star Trek philosophy!)
With these concerns in mind, we launched MDP with deliberate restrictions around app communications. Most notably, apps were limited to sending one message at a time, and we gave users the ability to block messages from apps they didn't like. This approach worked -- users have not rejected the MDP or Apps overall. In fact, most of the fears around the notion of "apps" have disappeared into the ether. Apps like Picnik, Flixster, Shelfari and many others have added real value to MySpace without causing any user concerns at all. Still, we realized that some good, popular apps were causing alarm among the userbase, because of the way they incentivized user behavior. Left unchecked, these apps could create a negative experience for everyone, making it a chore to check your inbox each morning.
To prevent that from happening, as of today, we're instituting new rules for how apps can communicate with users on MySpace. You can read about these rules here and in the Application Guidelines, The main thrust of these changes is to limit app communications that are based on incentivizing or tricking users. To be clear, the purpose of these changes is to emphasize to developers that their focus should be on creating great apps that users will want to tell each other about. The best viral software is software you can't live without. Unfortunately, for some developers, the focus has been on how to come up with the best methods of viral distribution.
The outcome of these rule changes mean that some very popular apps--those which are games designed to give users points for spreading the game around, may cease to exist as before on MySpace. That said, I think its important to suggest what we were hoping for with the creation of this platform.
When we conceived of the MySpace Developer Platform we thought of the "apps" that were already so important to MySpace users--the YouTube's and Slide's of the world. We hoped developers would create software that had real utility and improved upon the MySpace community. We hoped they'd make features that we'd never have time to build ourselves. Or features that improved upon our own. We also realized that because users were only able to control their profiles, there had very little third-party development around other parts of MySpace. (Very little, but there had been some.) This is why we opened up app access to the user home page. We hoped developers would recognize the opportunity of creating value for the user on the users very own start page. Apps don't have to be about profile "bling" -- users could login to MySpace and enjoy homepage access to all sorts of useful features. Imagine reading email, looking at news, or using a web-based IM from MySpace start page, and you start to get the picture. The platform provides that flexibility, but so far I haven't seen an app that really takes advantage of it. Here's to hoping someone will!
Thanks for your time and your work!