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Search's MySpace Age – Search Insider

MySpace has the potential not just to hold its title as one of the top online properties and the largest social networking site, but to redefine personalized search. It’s all in the MediaPost column today.

Search’s MySpace Age
By David Berkowitz
The Search Insider

I have a confession to make: I spend more time on MySpace than any college graduate with a full-time job should. At least I’m popular, though; I have more than 130 friends on the site.

You probably know most of my friends. In my “top friends” alone, the ones featured on my profile page, you’ll find Colgate Max Fresh, Tom Petty, H&M, Burger King, “The Office” on NBC, Seventeen magazine, State Farm, Aquafina, and Johnny Drama from “Entourage.”

While these icons and brands are among my connections, MySpace is much bigger than just a social network; it’s also a search engine. ComScore has at times listed it as the sixth largest engine, albeit with less than one percent of searches. Google found the traffic on MySpace (and other Fox Interactive Media properties) such a draw that it will provide search services to News Corp and pay a minimum of $900 million in revenue sharing from 2007 through 2010.

The growth of MySpace, which now has more than 100 million registered users, leads me to wonder what would happen if MySpace emerged as one of the top four search engines (my prediction: it will). I’ve always found it curious that the default search choice on the site is to search the Web, not MySpace. Perhaps that’s a fluke in usability, or perhaps MySpace, since very early in its existence, has recognized its potential to serve as a portal for Generation My.

When considering MySpace as a portal, we also can envision the next incarnation of the personalized home page. Google, Yahoo, and MSN have all rolled out personalized home pages, based on the general concept of users registering and customizing the content delivered. MySpace has a completely different approach: here, the personalized home page has the users’ photos and videos, their favorite songs, links to all their friends’ pages, local event listings, messages from their friends, and even blog and RSS subscriptions.

Currently, most of this content is housed within MySpace’s virtual walls, uploaded or created by each user and his or her connections. That’s changing; applications and widgets are emerging so that users can “pimp” (or customize) their profiles. This profile pimping and primping still requires some technological savvy, yet it’s in MySpace’s interest, and perhaps its plans, to make it easier to incorporate external content.

If this scenario fully materializes, then before long, users’ run of the mill MySpace profiles will include their RSS feeds spanning the Web, local events from Upcoming.org, photos from Flickr and Picasa Web, del.icio.us tag clouds, Pandora music stations, top news stories via Digg.com, multiplayer games, TV shows streamed from the user’s Slingbox, and of course all the communications tools currently available on MySpace. This all points to why MySpace could emerge as the most popular search engine for this generation.

The MySpace juggernaut could then wield incredible power for ad targeting, especially when factoring in search. The targeting could flow in two directions. On one level, marketers could target consumers who meet a range of predetermined criteria based on what users write on their profiles. Toyota could specifically market its fun, cartoony Yaris line specifically to anime fans when they’re searching for cars. Similarly, Yaris banner ads could appear on those users’ personalized homepages–an example of search-based behavioral targeting.

Should MySpace continue to roll out portal functionality and open up its code to allow users to really customize their profiles, MySpace could emerge as the No. 1 destination for people under age 35 to find a job, new music, video clips, dates, local events, and, ultimately, anything they’d ever consider searching for (older demographics comprise a large part of the site’s users, but the portal and personalization features should appeal to the younger set more). The targeting options for advertisers could then multiply in turn. Is that some Rupert Murdoch fantasy, or simply inevitable?

I asked my 15-year-old nephew, Ari, about MySpace. He doesn’t have a profile, though his friends are on the site. He says he’s not interested. He told me over Instant Messenger, “It seems like something that I’d obsess over and then leave alone forever. Not worth the energy.”

Granted, so Ari’s smarter and more eloquent than most people. News Corp and Google better hope he’s just speaking for himself, and not his generation.

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