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MySpace, The Culture of Customization, and Person Portals

In reply to a recent post about commoditization of IT, “Fraxis” ended his comment about customization in the software world with:

I think the fact that companies still do have to call up manufacturers and get customized software demonstrates some real immaturity in the marketplace; there are very few ways to get good information about everything that’s out there (present redmonk company excepted!), and we have a culture of wanting not to make do with anything that’s slightly out of line with our requirements.

I think it’ll be a generational thing, with the people born in 1990 who have had access to the web and to web-based services since they were old enough to read truly driving the commodity-software-service market once they get old enough to make purchasing decisions for medium- and large-size corporations.

MySpace and Enterprise Software

MySpace is a perfect example of people balancing the urge to use customized software vs. what’s available. It’s a stealer example of what I call “good enough software.” The key idea of good enough software is to enabled users to do all the easy customizations (usually display-oriented), but to avoid spending much time enabling the more difficult customizations or features (process and “core” semantics of your system).

Once enterprise software does the same, people will stop running around, saying things like “enterprise software is dead.” Instead they’ll be going to the site and hitting reload.

Figuring out how to get that point isn’t going to be a one-size-fits all approach (ironically). Each organization will have to burrow down to the basics of it’s software and reasons people use it (not just why they buy it, that just gets you the first check). In the end, they’ll find that there are groups of people who desperately want to do something that only technology will enable. In many cases, the technology available will have missed the mark in satisfying that desire.

The “good enough software” challenge of enabling complete customization of the simple stuff is a much smaller issue compared to the more abstract problem of creating software that make people’s businesses and personal lives more interesting. In the area of social network, MySpace provides a great example of solving the first problem. While it doesn’t provide an implementation of solving the second problem that I’m happy about, it does help iron out the more abstract motivations for social networking software, which pushes us ever closer to creating software that can enhance people’s lives.

MySpace: Breaking All the Rules

I’ve been thinking about and, more importantly, using MySpace a lot recently. It has all the bad things that us “1st generation” web people hate: banner ads, it’s a roach motel, lots of flashing/ill-sized layout, HTML 1.0 level of “validation,” and that endless social network pattern of pulling in all your friends to set up profiles and link to you.

On the other hand, it’s wildly successful, both in actual us and pay-out for it’s founders.

Content Silos

While MySpace at first seems like just another bag of the usual stuff, it’s the combination of all those things together in that makes it technologically successful. Throw in a hefty heaping of “lucky enough to have a strong community,” and you’ve got a successful piece of social software, ugly as it may be…by default, at least.

Many of my non-tech world friends use it, and I can see why: it’s easier to create a “person portal” on MySpace than stitching together all the content silos on the web. These content silos are things like blogs, Flickr,, forums, upcoming/eventful, bloglines/feedlounge, email, and even IM.

Person Portal

By “person portal,” I mean a portal like site that uses RSS, FOAF, and other XML-wingdings that pulls together all the data about a person into one site. To use a non-MySpace example, I looked for Yahoo! 360 to fill this roll, but it didn’t quite fit my “requirements.” Instead of just giving in to what MySpace and Yahoo! 360 does provide, I spend countless hours trying to get all those sites to work together, but it never seems to quite work out.

An Example: Erik Benson

In discussing this “person portal” concept with people, I always cite The Erik Benson Portal as the prime example. He pulls in content from 20 different sites including his blog, dodgeball,, Flickr, his to do list, and all manner of other XML-enabled content silos. The end effect is that there’s one web page and one RSS feed to subscribe to if you want to get all of Erik’s content on your screen or in your aggregator.

While it’s true that I could code up something to do the same, I’d much rather spend that time consuming and creating information rather than worrying about the meta-processes to support my info-addiction. More importantly, those who don’t have piles of tech-books taking up precious space need an alternative to “view source.” That means that the rest of us are stuck with JavaScript includes, things like MySpace, and RSS splicing.


The best success so far has been the use of Feedburner to splice together an RSS feed with my other weblog, my bookmarks, and my photos. But, even feedburner let me down recently when I added this blog to the content portfolio. Feedburner doesn’t let you mash together multiple RSS feeds. That is, I can’t create the “Mega Coté Content Feed” that splices together all the Coté RSS and content known to man and woman.

I’m hoping Feedburner will do this one day. But even if they do, that’ll just solve the RSS part of the problem.

MySpace: The Best Person Portal So Far

…despite being not very good. The thing with MySpace is that your content has to be all MySpace generated. There are no ways to pull in the diversity of content that, for example, Erik does. On the other hand, if you “live in MySpace,” as many people I know do (bringing over their laptop just to keep plugged into MySpace), your problem is solved. Though, us snooty Web 2.0 people may turn out nose at the crude interface and feature set, it does the job “good enough” for an uncountable number of people.

As a side-note, sites like Squidoo could expand out in the direction of MySpace, becoming a person portal, and have a more Web 2.0 go at the problem.

Why Does it Matter?

Why would you even care about pulling all that together? From a reader perspective, I care a great deal. I want quick and easy ways to use the network to keep up with my friends and people I’m interested in. Several of my out-of-town and “low-frequency” friends maintain blogs, photo streams, and other pools of personal data online. Thanks to RSS, I can subscribe to all those data-streams and use technology to “keep up” with my friends. Creating that content myself is just part of the participatory deal you work out with everyone: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Person Portal as a Social Network Node

With that kind of system setup, once I get together with people face-to-face, instead of having to start back up our conversation (in the Cluetrain sense of the word), we’re able to continue it. For example, when one of my friends finally made it to my house for our recent New Year’s party, he stood in the living room and said, “wow, it’s like I’ve already been here a million times.” Where he’d “been” was looking at all the pictures of my house. The same has happened with more ephemeral things in our lives than furniture: what jobs we currently do, what music we like, who we consider our friends, and what activities we fill our time with.

Put another way: I desperately want to consume and create the output of declarative living.

Categories: Collaborative, Enterprise Software, RSS, The New Thing.

Comment Feed

3 Responses

  1. I still don't understand the MySpace miracle, but if you're looking for a way to stitch all your feeds together, give suprglu a try.

    I've got all mine together on

    I haven't messed with building a page template yet, but they've got a number of attractive looking defaults.

  2. Cote,

    Feed splicing is a high priority for feedflow. We are trying to nail the basics of feed fetching and management right now (which is a surprisingly hard problem), but we want to make dumb simple and efficient to splice feeds.

    Stay tuned.

  3. Danno: thanks for the tip. I'm checking them out and it looks promosing so far.

    Baus: that sounds exciting. I'll look forward to it.