Kudos & Calamities: Looking at a Wallop of Success?
In a virtual world of unique visitors and visitor hits that result in cash, social networking sites Facebook and MySpace keep hitting treasure wherever they dig. For those unfamiliar with the sites, Facebook started in February 2004 as a strictly college networking site, where registered users can keep in touch with other users. Anyone registering needed a “.edu” email address in order to create a profile. Eventually, the user base expanded to high school students as well as faculty and staff at schools and universities. MySpace was created in 2004, and it eventually expanded into one of the most popular websites. Websites like Facebook and MySpace have really busted into the scene in the past few years. On a traditional “money” standpoint, these sites are sitting goldmines. News Corporation purchased MySpace for 580 million US Dollars. Likewise, Facebook owners were offered $900 million dollars by Yahoo!. Social networking is quickly becoming a rich internet business with great incentive. It’s the newer, more popular incarnation of Geocities.
Let’s take a step back. For those of you unfamiliar with what a social networking website really is, it’s simply a network of websites that allow users to create profiles and interact with other users. The idea originally came out of a desire to “personalize” something on the web, much like how Geocities once was. In Facebook and MySpace, you can “friend” a person who would then be allowed to post on your wall, see your profile, and many other things.
What has this phenomenon developed into? Microsoft seems curious.
Wallop was unveiled this week as a social networking part of Microsoft. While it’s technically a different company, it was supported and developed in Microsoft Research Labs. As a product coming out of Microsoft’s Redmond Labs, it’s no stretch of the imagination to immediately dismiss it as a late party-spoiler to the likes of Facebook and MySpace. Microsoft has made a living out of out-doing other company’s products. “The company build dominant franchises like Internet Explorer and Windows by copying good technology developed by scrappy upstart and then using its heft to outmaneuver smaller rivals,” noted Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek. In fact, Facebook and MySpace has penetrated so deeply into the social networking scene that it has motivated many other companies outside of Microsoft to pursue social networking websites.
Well, what’s different about Wallop? Currently, Wallop is more of a closed experiment. Like Google’s Gmail system, Wallop is an invitation-only site. Instead of a mass all-open system, the invitation-only scheme provides the site to be only for “cool people”, as Chief Executive Carl Jacob noted. In addition, Wallop was coded and developed for more than four full years. It took Microsoft’s researchers that long, partly because the entire website is based on Adobe’s Flash as opposed to standard HTML templates. That brings us to another exclusive feature of Wallop. Instead of supporting the site with advertisements like Facebook and MySpace, Wallop allows users to purchase customized animations for a small fee.
First off, I want to make it clear that if Wallop becomes an open all-access website like MySpace is, it will be an unmitigated failure — much like how a PC World World Websites Review suggests it strongly disapproves of MySpace’s structure. That said, I don’t know if users are ready to switch from the likes of MySpace and Facebook to the all-new Wallop. Facebook owners have been harshly criticized for its recent ploy to open its gates to all users with a valid email address. This, much like MySpace, is probably in preparation to sell-out to Yahoo!. The good question to ask is will Wallop be a strong enough alternative for Facebook and MySpace users to switch? Will it be the “new” place to socialize online? Wallop is making a strong statement with its features – or so we should expect from a four-year project. In the end, we’ll have to see. I’m looking forward to it.
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