Google has announced that Orkut will be shutting down in September after years of struggling in Facebook’s wake. It seems like a pertinent time to look back at some of other big names among social networks that crashed and burned.
Years Active: 2003 to present day
What it was: No discussion on failed social networks would be complete without the mention of Myspace, the 800-pound gorilla that ultimately fell to malnourishment until it became a mere shadow of its former self. Myspace was one of the first social networks founded on the premise of letting users create profiles and then connecting with friends and strangers. Almost since its time of inception, Myspace paid special attention to music, so much so that at one point of time it was almost exclusively used by bands to promote their music.
Why it failed: In 2005, News Corp. purchased Myspace for $580 million and many consider that to be one of the most significant reasons for its failure. While social networks like Facebook focused on improving the social networking experience, Myspace continued to act like a portal that delivered entertainment and music content to its users.
Another reason was the overwhelming presence of ads and promotional content on Myspace that not only made the site look unattractive but also made it slow. On top of that, at a time when third party apps and games were drawing new users to Facebook, Myspace relied on in-house app developers who made apps that weren’t comparable to the ones on Facebook.
Where it stands today: In 2011, Myspace was sold to Specific Media for a paltry $35 million, with popstar Justin Timberlake also one of the parties with an ownership stake. In 2013, Myspace was relaunched as ‘myspace’ with a new clean design and a singular focus on music streaming and playback.
Years Active: 2002 to present day
What it was: Friendster is considered to be the first social network that hit mass popularity with about 3 million users in its initial months. It was known as a site that made it easy for users to connect with ‘friends of friends’ or complete strangers. At its peak, Friendster boasted of a user base 115 million.
Why it failed: After rejecting buyout offers from the likes of Google, Friendster stayed a private company. Unfortunately this meant that it couldn’t grow rapidly whereas competitors like Facebook and Myspace could. The site also suffered from many service issues and bugs which caused disgruntled users to move away.
Where it stands today: In 2009, Friendster was acquired by MOL Global, a Malaysian company, for $26.4 million. It has since completely stopped social networking services and instead now focuses on online social gaming and entertainment.
Years Active: 2010 to 2012
What it was: Apple proved that it still considered music to be one of primary tools to drive consumer behaviour by launching Ping, a social network that completely revolved around the music that a user listened to or bought. Ping users could see what music their friends listened to or bought on iTunes and also which all Ping users shared their tastes in music.
Why it failed: When Ping was announced in September 2010, users were told that the service would come with Facebook integration, which meant that they would be able to share the same list of friends as on Facebook. However, that integration was removed soon thereafter. Users also started reporting that they were seeing spam in the comments sections of artists’ profiles and of fake artist profiles. Ping also had a limited rollout and countries like India did not see a launch at all.
Where it stands today: iTunes Ping was discontinued on September 30 2012. Instead, Apple now allows Facebook and Twitter integration inside the iTunes music player.
Years Active: 2010 to 2011
What it was: Google Buzz was the search giant’s first attempt at competing with Facebook and Twitter. It was a social network and microblogging service integrated within Gmail that let users share links, videos and photos and communicate with friends and strangers. It also shared the locations of users when they made posts.
Why it failed: If the last statement in the previous point did not make it clear, Google Buzz was a privacy nightmare. In the initial stage of its launch, users found that unless they had specifically turned off the setting, Buzz would publicly share their list of contacts that they had chatted with or emailed the most. Also, the fact that a user’s accurate location would be shared everytime he/she posted to Buzz from a phone lead to privacy concerns. However, ultimately, the main reason for Buzz’s failure was that it simply didn’t provide something innovative as compared to Twitter or Facebook.
Where it stands today: Google shut down Buzz on December 15, 2011 and turned its attention Google+, another social network that’s precariously poised between failure and success.
Years Active: 2005 to present day
What it was: Bebo was a social networking site that let users create customized profiles with the help of different modules and themes. Apart from this, Bebo offered a portfolio of standard social networking features including the ability to share links, photos and videos with friends and connect with users outside the friends circle. Bebo was particularly popular in the UK and because of that it was bought by AOL in 2008 for $850 million.
Why it failed: Like Myspace, Bebo’s failure can be blamed on both its acquisition by a large company that did not have a solid plan for the product and Facebook’s meteoric rise. While Facebook and Twitter innovated and rapidly evolved, Bebo was left behind like many other social networks.
Where it stands today: In 2010, Bebo was sold to an investment firm and then in May 2013, it filed for bankruptcy. It was finally sold to the original founders Michael and Xochi Birch for $1 million in July 2013. Bebo is now expected to relaunch not as a social networking site but a company that develops social apps.