Shutting Down Rupert Murdoch's Social Experiments Lab

We hear News Corporation is winding down MySpace spinoff Slingshot Labs, a vestige of the media conglomerate's efforts to retain MySpace founder Chris DeWolfe. But the labs are hatching one last diabolical plot, on behalf of the Wall Street Journal.

Our spy tells us that half of Slingshot's lavishly-paid staff have been laid off, while the other half are completing a "LinkedIn killer" for the Journal.

A WSJ site for posting resumés and for professional networking sounds like a severely tardy effort, particularly if the goal is to try and unseat segment leader LinkedIn. One of LinkedIn's greatest strengths is its strong placement in Google search results. But News Corp. and the Journal in particular have been flagrantly antagonizing Google for indexing their content. Perhaps the true goal is to build a smaller, better curated set of high-level executives and managers; that sort of site might actually take off.

In any case, it sounds like this will be the last idea to emerge from Slingshot. The tech "incubator" was started two years ago with $15 million in News Corp. money; we heard at the time that DeWolfe demanded the investment as a condition of renewing his contract. But the MySpace founder then got the heave-ho in April 2009, barely a year after the lab was set up.

Our tipster said News Corp. seems intent on shutting down Slingshot entirely, but this person couldn't rule out the possibility that a successful project for the Journal could save remaining workers' necks and maybe even the lab itself.

Though technically independent, Slingshot was mainly a lab for MySpace innovations. It was (and may still be) 90 percent owned by News Corp. and 10 percent owned by staff; the idea was to sell innovations back to News Corp. and share in the tenth of the profits the media conglomerate didn't keep for itself. But no such sale ever happened; we're told the closest the lab ever came to such a sale was for a MySpace events app called Social Plan. Aside from that, the lab's biggest product was a me-too gossip website called DailyFill. There's also the list-sharing website Linfoand the dating site Catchme, neither of which took the world by storm.

Regardless of Slingshot's track record, News Corp.'s top managers could benefit from some high-tech experimentation in between their bouts of heckling the likes of Google. In that sense, it's sad to see even an underperforming tech lab fall by the wayside.

UPDATE: Slingshot tells TechCrunch changes are indeed afoot, but declined to address them in detail. However a VP was quoted saying Social Plan staff will be transferred to MySpace — an "acquisition" of Social Plan, in the spokesman's phrasing, though it's not clear whether money is changing hands and whether Slingshot staff will see any cash. Said spokesman also said "most of the remaining team from Slingshot will be focused on a venture for which there is tremendous excitement." It's good someone is excited about a "LinkedIn killer."

(Pic: Murdoch and DeWolfe at the 2007 opening of MySpace's San Francisco office. Getty Images.)