Did you hear the joke about Myspace? It was either told by a snarky website, a formerly active Myspacer, or someone in the process of taking an outdated mirror selfie. Now that publisher Time, Inc. purchased Myspace's parent company, Viant, a new round of Myspace jokes can see the light of day. However, these jokes are rooted in concepts like 'digital ad tech,' 'access to 1 billion email addresses,' and 'data-driven marketing.'
Time, Inc is one of the greatest producers of digital content on the web right now, with properties like Sports Illustrated, People, InStyle, Time, Southern Living, Fortune, and Food & Wine. They are perfectly hedged across the board with print and digital brands that appeal to every significant demographic of female, male, Millennial, person who wants to watch cooking videos, and beyond. The acquisition of the parent company of Myspace could spark a lot of questions about the integration of a past-it's-prime social network with a content company.
Viant is being acquired for it's marketing technology and registration data, even though Myspace still claims 50 million users per month as of January 2015. The idea of taking on a social network seems ambitious/pointless for a 94 year old publishing house. The trail of your digital existence is still being bought and sold. It's being used to 'enhance your experience' and have better advertisements targeted to you. Your digital history is important to publishers, advertisers, and technology companies that will forever be trying to directly connect the two.
One would assume that the relationship between the content farm and the social network would be one of codependence. The content company must rely on the popular social media platform to cultivate the attention of the audience/the world. The social network must rely on the premium content brands to add their content to the stream, prompting the user to do an outbound click to reach the content. This assumption of codependence is no longer valid.
With Twitter seriously considering upping the character limit, and Facebook hosting content from select publishers on their platform, it seems like both social networks are doing their best to become the content. It's the best way to prevent themselves from becoming just a huge database of registration information like Myspace. Instead, they are using the data they have acquired to continue to perfectly target content (and advertisements) to interested parties. Social networks and content farms are both trying to create more insularity in 2016. There's no need to go anywhere else, except OUR network.
Content farms and social networks aren't that different at this point. They are both pages of content, usually produced by humans, used to sell advertisements against. However, content farms and social networks can do better when they have more demographic information about you. There are few reasons that would compel you to tell a content farm your age or other personal information. There are few reasons that you would trust a social network as an authoritative editorial source or independent media brand. As the digital media landscape continues to consolidate, it is unlikely to stay that way.
Both content farms and social networks are seeking email and SMS registrations in order to stay perpetually connected to their users. This is the data that is most likely to outlast the popularity of any one website or social network. There is no longer a comfortable symbiotic relationship between content and social. Both are growing, and segmenting.
When an acquisition of a formerly popular website or valuable digital brand happens, it really just presents the question: What is even the long term value of all of these pages of internet? As every web company continues to scale upwards, the argument that these pages mean something 'real' to 'real people' becomes more difficult to make. That's why you have to invest in digital ad tech in order to make sure there are actual humans consuming this content.
Part of it is all just a song-and-dance of 'trying' to grow. Demonstrating to investors that you are 'trying to do things better' than competitors. It's not just that your audience is larger and more relevant than other audiences. You are making the industry leading moves to prevent the entire industry from being caught in a stagnant and therefore unsustainable business model.
It's weird to think that when I opened a Myspace account sometime in the mid-2000s, it was all just some complex data hoarding exercise that would eventually be sold to a publishing house. There wasn't a legitimate cultural revolution after all with the 'tools' that social networks gave you to express yourself. Myspace 'as we knew it' has died a few times, but now I know my registration data was the most valuable long-term asset that I can contribute to any aspiring unicorn.
Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by the last relevant blogger.