MySpace’s death rattle?

After five years at the top of the social networking pyramid, MySpace spent the last two years becoming the new Friendster. It’s a tag the company wore happily when it outdid Friendster in 2003, but in 2010 it’s nothing short of a scarlet letter. This week Rupert Murdoch folded Slingshot Labs, MySpace’s technology development arm, in what is the closest News Corp. has come to an admission of social networking “Game Over.”

In all likelihood MySpace will continue to loom in the social networking galaxy for years to come come, shimmering in the distance as a dying white dwarf star that grabs what financial dust it can from the ether. Music lovers might still use the site on occasion to check out new artists, but for the most part any self-respecting teenager will tell you that MySpace is “so 2006.”

So what went wrong?

Here are the three biggest MySpace missteps that newer sites like Facebook and Twitter can avoid:

1. Putting The Advertiser Before The User – Visiting MySpace has for years felt like walking down the Vegas strip. Everything is for sale including the homepage. Inboxes are stuffed with updates about MySpace Records pet projects and other sponsored events, and the comment board and friend requests are filled with obscure companies or strippers trying to make a buck. Not that many people wanna stay in Vegas for more than a week; there’s a reason that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

2. The Napoleon Complex – In trying to keep up with the rapid expansion of their larger, wealthier counterparts (see: Google envy), MySpace leveraged its power by branching out into everything under the sun– search, videos, games, fashion, karaoke – in short, anything they thought an Internet giant should have in its portfolio. Each day brought the launch of some new MySpace enterprise, but once it was shuffled off the homepage to make room for the next venture, you never knew how to find it again even if you did like it. In the end, the only thing they achieved was diluting their brand and losing a sense of identity.

3. Inability To Adapt – There was a small window of opportunity when MySpace could have seen what people preferred about Facebook and applied it to MySpace without sacrificing its own uniqueness. Facebook for the most part is simple, user-friendly, and allows people to connect with friends without the annoyance of sponsors and strangers buzzing obtrusively like a mosquito. Facebook does one thing and it does it well, and if it can get its privacy policies in order, it allows advertisers to be part of a community without overrunning it. MySpace could easily have easily adapted some of these approaches before the writing was on the wall.

There is one thing that MySpace still does best, and that is music. Facebook, perhaps wisely, has ceded that ground. Despite MySpace’s overall demise, comScore reported a surprising 92% growth for MySpace Music in 2009. Music is what separated MySpace from early social networks in the first place, and at this point it would be wise to focus on keeping and expanding that stronghold while setting aside recent ill-advised offshoots. Let’s hope that’s what Rupert Murdoch had in mind when he nixed Slingshot Labs.