Can MySpace change its spots?

In an interview with the Financial Times, one of the founders of MySpace — Chris DeWolfe, the one who isn’t everyone’s friend as soon as they sign up (that’s his partner Tom Anderson) — hinted that the social network might open itself up further to developers, in the same way that Facebook has with its F8 Platform initiative. Among other things, his comments have sparked a heated debate (some of which is visible at Mashable) over whether MySpace is copying or following Facebook, or vice versa.

snipshot_e41fxbgdht9o.jpgHere are the facts: MySpace came first, and is still substantially larger than Facebook in terms of unique visitors, users, page views (about 3 billion a day) and pretty much any other metric you want to use. MySpace has also had widgets that can be embedded in MySpace pages for some time — in fact, it was that ability that helped YouTube develop such a large following so quickly (maybe Chris and Tom should ask their pals Chad and Steve for a little of the excess cash from the Google transaction, instead of trying to squeeze $50-million or so out of Rupert Murdoch).

However, MySpace has not had an open API, nor has it allowed widget developers to build in ways of monetizing the traffic they get — in fact, when Photobucket tried that, MySpace gave it the smack-down and then after it was weakened, acquired the company. Facebook, by contrast, has said that developers are welcome to monetize their apps, and that the social network would be happy to help them do so.

Whoever is running MySpace would have to be a moron not to see how much traffic — and attention — Facebook has been getting since it opened up and became (or tried to become) a platform. But as Marc Andreessen has pointed out, what Facebook did was a lot more than just an open API. Can MySpace turn over a new leaf and stop acting like the network is a dictatorship? That remains to be seen. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the company was making it sound like widget developers were the enemy.