Sucking up to the CEO's wife is usually a wise move. But did it doom MySpace chief Chris DeWolfe?
The official story will be that Jon Miller, the new broom from AOL, has swept aside MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe and his team. But as always, Murdoch alone rules News Corp. And the decision must have been his.
Four years after he bought MySpace, Murdoch has finally rid MySpace of the spammers and scammers who launched it. It is far past time — and yet probably the right moment. Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin's book, Stealing MySpace, has exposed MySpace's roots in porn, spam, and hacking. As the economic tide that boosted MySpace's advertising sales has receded, DeWolfe has been shown to be swimming naked. And Miller, as News Corp.'s newest Internet executive and the latest to have won Murdoch's ear, is in prime position to push out DeWolfe, whose contract expires this fall. (Just one question: If DeWolfe sidekick Tom Anderson is ousted, who will become every MySpace user's default first friend?)
DeWolfe always seemed more interested in throwing parties and dating celebrities than solving MySpace's hard problems. Growth has stagnated for the past year as Facebook has surged. The site's interface remains a shambolic wreck which fails at the most basic tasks, like remembering a user's login. Talented engineers, including COO Amit Kapur, have defected. Slingshot Labs, a MySpace spinoff meant to foster Silicon Valley-style innovation, is an industry laughingstock for launching a me-too celebrity gossip site rather than chasing genuinely new technologies. Given all this, it's possible that DeWolfe's friendship with Deng was the only thing that helped him last so long.
What now for the site? News Corp. is reportedly recruiting a new CEO already. Former Facebook COO Owen Van Natta would be an excellent choice, if he can be wrested away from the music startup he's currently running. Or the company might place an internal candidate from the News Corp. empire, to provide the closer eye MySpace has long needed.
Ah, but those are tiresomely sensible choices. Here are two that would maximize the Murdoch family drama everyone loves: Install prodigal son Lachlan Murdoch. Or put Deng in charge.