Book Review: Julia Angwin’s Stealing MySpace

Are Tila Tequila and Tom Anderson just urban legends? Not according to the book Stealing MySpace by Julia Angwin. This is a quite detailed look at the individuals and business twists that led to the creation of the social networking site MySpace and

Most of the book is dedicated to an account of an unpredictable cast of characters who seem to be on the edge, dealing in spyware and spam. Even being investigated by Eliot Spitzer for their business practices. How they end up being acquired by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch after a battle with Viacom’s CEO Sumner Redstone is something you never would expect after reading the modest start.

Keys to MySpace’s Growth.

  1. Allowing Fakesters. The biggest social networking site when MySpace was founded was Friendster which required people to register only one profile and with real details about themselves. Letting people, businesses, comedians, bands, etc. set up multiple profiles and not verifying personal information seems to be what really set MySpace off from the established Friendster and tapped a demand from social networking users who wanted more freedom and anonymity.
  2. Customization. Talk about serendipity, this was the result of an error and not a planned innovation. If you love to customize your profile, and millions do, MySpace is the place to do so. This feature created a third party opportunity and MySpace millionaires who developed page layouts and templates. This was one of the most interesting sections of the book for me as it had examples of everyday people who cashed in on the huge user base MySpace created.
  3. Independent Bands. What a chance to promote yourself for bands. Tom Anderson had a background in music and this seems to be one of his passions for the site.
  4. Celebrities and MySpace celebrities. Tila Tequila and other pinups were purposely encouraged to drive membership sign-ups. Previously obscure people by managing to avoid going too far with their pictures developed their 15 minutes of fame as thousands of people became their friends.

Multiple struggles.

There was the battle just to get the site up and running on a shoestring budget within an organization with questionable practices.

Then the race to become the number one social networking site, supplanting Friendster. As well as lots of information on the race with Facebook as they both adopted ideas gleaned from each other.

Finally, the struggle to sell the business to Rupert Murdoch and Tom Anderson and the other founders to fit in with a larger organization.

I found the book interesting overall. Just knowing now that Tila Tequila and Tom Anderson are real people and the personalities of the characters were fascinating. MySpace’s development is an unusual story and the book perhaps tries to analyze too much of the various storylines. But it is still worth reading if you want a glimpse into the strange world of internet startups to big-money acquisitions.