Ulanoff: Trendy Web 2.0 Darlings May Be Doomed

Don't get too attached to MySpace. You might want to pull up stakes from "Second Life," too. And you'll probably want to stop posting inanities to Twitter.

Why? All of these sites will be gone before the end of this decade.

These social networks are — or were — media darlings, and all are part of a new wave of Internet hyperbole.

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Though millions of dollars may not have been invested and lost on these enterprises, untold hours of airtime, pages of text, and human effort have been and continue to be wasted on each of them.

Each site approaches the social-networking paradigm differently, yet they all share a common thread: overreaching ambition and impossible expectations.

They live, to an extent, inside the second Internet bubble.

MySpace could be the first to collapse.

It has now suffered the same fate as the millions of personal Web sites that sprang up in the mid 1990s: It's huge, ugly, unmonitored, unrestrained and pointless.

Unlike those sites, however, MySpace offers an overarching organization and a search engine to find all kinds of content and, of course, new MySpace friends.

Unfortunately, it's filled with untold numbers of mostly empty site shells that will never be completed.

In the 1990s, we called these "ghost sites." You would occasionally bump into one via search or, more often, through a cross-link from another personal Web site that was never updated.

Today, these MySpace shells are like the garbage in an Internet landfill. There are so many that you can barely get to the good stuff — if there is any.

The other big problem — and the surprising connection between MySpace and the personal Web sites of the first Internet bubble — is that they all look like garbage.

Seriously, have you ever looked at a MySpace page? The frames are ugly, the backgrounds even uglier and the overall look is more random than a critique by Paula Abdul.

MySpace is still considered a success, so none of this really matters. But there have been disturbing signs that all is not well in this bustling social network.

More and more predators are using the site to prey on underage teens. And young adults are learning — the hard way — that their openness and journeys of self-discovery (and sexual experimentation) can attract unwanted attention. The result is that this network is changing from a playground to a minefield.

Suddenly, MySpace's strength is also its greatest weakness. Thanks to Google and a very well-indexed MySpace, any perversity can be unearthed by the psychos of this world — and by potential employers.

The First to Go

"Second Life" could just as easily be the first to go.

No one believes its reported participation numbers anymore, even though big companies, such as Circuit City and IBM, have built virtual stores (and Playboy is jumping in with both, er, feet this month).

Some individuals are even claiming to make real-world money in there, but are they really?

Frankly, I think Second Life is the equivalent of a virtual con. There's no doubt that it's enjoyed startling growth in the last year and a half, but that was driven, for the most part, by the laudatory press and media coverage it received.

Companies herded like sheep to the platform, because they believed the hype. So did users.

But reality is finally starting to trump perception. Companies' virtual stores sit empty, and there's no way they can measure if they're building any additional brand recognition simply by being there.

Of course, they're not.

Twitter's demise will certainly come before we hit 2011. It's the perfect example of Internet flash paper, and I suspect it will shine as brightly and briefly as this favorite magician's gimmick.

I'm singling out the site, which revolves entirely around people's random notes about what they're doing and thinking at any given moment, because of a recent John C. Dvorak column. He somewhat insanely says that these random postings should be saved for posterity.

Dvorak is too smart to believe this, so I'll assume his entire column was tongue-in-cheek. No one is going to save these random posts about nothing.

Twitter is popular now because the Web cognoscenti are using it. This bunch of eggheads prides itself on irony and witticism. They treat the site like some sort of ongoing haiku contest.

Well, folks, I have a haiku for you:

Goodbye, bubble, and
So long, overhyped nonsense
Till the next "Big Thing."

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