February 8, 2008, 12:00 AM

MySpace opens it doors, but retailers may walk on by

MySpace made available this week documentation that will allow retailers and others to build applications to run on the social networking site. But, based on their experience with Facebook, merchants may take a pass.

MySpace made available this week documentation that will allow retailers and others to build applications to run on the social networking site. But, based on the experience retailers have had on Facebook, some doubt that merchants will rush to take MySpace up on its offer.

One e-retailer that built an application for Facebook, which opened up its platform to outside developers last year, was Shop.com. Called Shop COMpanion, the application encourages social shopping by allowing Facebookers to highlight products they recommend or would like to have, and enables their friends to buy the items on Shop.com, an online shopping mall.

The results were underwhelming says Mondy Beller, senior vice president of marketing. Fewer than 400 Facebook members have added the application to their pages, and only three or four people use it each day. By contrast, an application from Slide Inc. that allows Facebookers to display pictures of their “top friends” is used by more than 6 million members each month.

“Based on our experience with Facebook we won’t be pursuing it on MySpace,” Beller says, although the application remains available for use on Facebook. “When someone goes to Facebook or MySpace they’re in the mode to socialize not to shop.”

Shop.com’s experience is not atypical, as merchants have had little success so far selling products through Facebook, says Jason Billingsley, co-founder and vice president of innovation at Elastic Path Software, whose company has studied the e-commerce applications created for Facebook.

Some merchants have created popular promotional applications for Facebook, such as a JanSport back-to-school contest last summer that offered JanSport products as prizes to Facebookers who posted the best pictures of the contents of their backpacks. “But they weren’t selling products,” Billingsley says. “They were giving away products through a fun contest.”

Still, e-retailers are not giving up on the opportunity to reach the tens of millions of consumers joining social networks. MySpace had 68.9 million unique visitors in December and Facebook 34.7 million, according to web measurement company comScore Inc. And those visitors were not all teen-agers: 48% of MySpace users and 44% of those on Facebook were over 35, comScore says.

“We might be just a little early in trying to convert Facebook users into buyers through this application,” says Beller of Shop.com. “It may happen eventually, we were just a little early.”

There is one aspect of MySpace’s offer that makes it more appealing than Facebook’s, says Billingsley. MySpace has adopted a Google standard called OpenSocial designed to allow an application created for one social networking site to run on others. While Facebook has yet to adopt OpenSocial, Billingsley says an application built for MySpace will run on other social networking sites using the Google standard, such as U.K. social networking leader Bebo.

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