I wondered about a MySpace downturn back in May — I may well have been just flat wrong — or maybe I was just premature. An article in the WSJ looks at the problem of MySpace and Facebook becoming overcrowded and too full of commercial messages:

“good bye myspace.

I’ve always hated you.

I just never had what it took

to leave”

Ms. Thompson belongs to a fringe of Internet users now renouncing MySpace and other social-networking sites — not in spite of their popularity, but because of it. That highlights a dilemma facing News Corp.’s MySpace and Facebook Inc.: While it takes a critical mass of users to make these sites work, having too many users alienates some, especially when they attract an ever-growing cacophony of advertising and in some cases, spam.

There’s nothing new about these observations, and it’s still not clear whether this is just minor ongoing churn or the tip of the iceberg. The article cites Nielsen/NetRatings data that shows traffic drop-off, but it’s written off as seasonal.

MySpace Facebook Friensyer Traffic

The article also cites a growing spam problem:

There’s no question, however, that MySpace’s recent popularity has brought with it a proliferation of spam that has annoyed some users. Many advertisers take advantage of the “friend request” function and send out requests that are really just advertisements. And programs have cropped up that can automatically send mass friend requests to MySpace users — in short, a new generation of email spam. Sites with names like FriendBot.com and FriendAdder.com sell the programs starting at $19.95.

I think the real question is whether the success of the MySpace and Facebook brands will allow them to maintain their dominant positions, or whether going mainstream will ultimately ruin their appeal for the hip digital generation.

Last year the trend to watch was social networking. This year it was online video. Next year one of the big trends to watch will be whether the dominant brands have staying power.