Friday, January 06, 2006

Human Botnets V

So when Rupert Murdoch bought Myspace, what did he get for his half-a-billion dollars? According to this Wired News article, published in November 2005, Myspace got more hits than Google and hosted more ads than any other site on the web, %12 of all web ads are on Myspace, they're getting 3.5 million new users every month. But it's not the banner ads that have the real potential here: their ad database presumably knows that I'm a graduate architecture student, I told it as much when I filled out the registration form, but all the banner ads want to sell me is an online degree in "visual communications" from some diploma farm in Connecticut. Whatever algorithm they've got serving up their ads is dumber than dumb, the real recommendation engine here is the users: 47 million people constantly staying in touch with each other by sending links, movies, songs, pop culture references, photos, chain mail, quizzes ... every piece of web media imaginable, and some that were just invented yesterday, get spread around the Myspace ecosystem faster than you can say "You must be logged-in to do that!"

These people are exercising their Social Capital like there's no next week. And not only that, they're creating content left, right and center, too, posting their own pictures, text, music and movies to their profile pages; content that's then clicked on, commented, and consumed by everyone in their network. Content creation is often the missing link in the old web business equations: sites have to stay fresh in order to attract traffic, and traffic generates money via the indirect viewing of clickthroughs or banner ads. They called it monetizing eyeballs. One problem with that model is the guy at the desk, sitting there providing content on salary. Who wants to pay "creatives" to sit around all day and make up content? Creatives are notoriously cranky and unprofessional, social networking sites have found a way to get users to make content for free in their spare time. The amazing thing isn't that Flickr hosts photos for free, it's that they're not paying people to upload even more.

If the first round of web based businesses was about monetizing eyeballs, this next round will be about capitalizing trust networks: the deliberate creation of communities that can then be sold. Myspace cofounders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe met while working at a company called xDrive, where Tom was employed designing banner ads, they left to form a company called ResponseBase, which was later reformed into Myspace. Intermix Media, the parent company of Myspace (Murdoch's News Corporation is the grandparent) was sued by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for surreptitiously installing spyware, they settled out of court for $7.5 million a few days before Murdoch bought the company. This guy has the whole story (along with some more dubious content from uncredited sources, but all of the above details are confirmable). The point is that the botnet-like behavior of large, socially networked, populations of human beings is not missed by these former creators of banner ads and spyware. And it's certainly not missed by the owners of the largest media corporation in the world, also now the owners of Myspace. Tom is now offering 15 photos, the second half of the "I want 12 and 15" chain mail meme, to Myspace users who buy "Myspace Records Vol. 1": a compilation of music recorded by other Myspace users, repackaged and sold back to them.

It's really fun to stay in touch with old friends and share in the things that they're doing. Bandwidth and storage space are commodities that are consumed when these types of communications occur over the web. We should stay aware of the price we pay for free hosting. This is the downside of the willful reification of our social relationships and our art: we turned our friends into sidebars, and our memories into content, and we shouldn't be surprised that these things can now be bought and sold. Tom has over 47 million friends, and he sold them.

Human Botnets I
Human Botnets II
Human Botnets III
Human Botnets IV

(shoutout to Baltimore's own Mobtown Shank for pointing me towards this article.)

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