Is a redesign enough to help MySpace catch up with competitors?

Execs at the Beverly Hills social networking site are betting that it is. They began to roll out its new look last week, and it’s much simpler – a la Facebook.

The new site will formally launch Thursday with a streamlined two-column layout.

The main column will show the user’s activity stream – a real-time list of “friends’” updates and notifications similar to Facebook’s news feed. A smaller, right column will display “My Stuff” – personal photos, music, videos and calendar items.

The changes come not long after Chief Executive Jason Hirschhorn stepped down, leaving the position to President Mike Jones. Meanwhile, the site continues to lose traffic while Facebook gains.

MySpace executives said the changes are part of a complete overhaul of the site planned later this year.

“This is the first of a series of changes to the homepage that you’ll see in the coming months,” Christina Wodtke, MySpace general manager of social networking, said in a press release.

The planned overhaul is a key component of the website’s effort to stay relevant as more of its users turn to Facebook. MySpace was a pioneer of social networking, but has watched traffic evaporate. In July, 64 million visitors logged on to MySpace, down from 79 million in July 2009, according to website traffic tracker Compete.

Meanwhile, 128 million visitors went to Facebook in July, up from 98 million last year.

MySpace, which is owned by News Corp., now has 122 million total members compared with Facebook’s 500 million.

Steve Broback, founder of Redmond, Wash., social media consulting company Parnassus Group, said MySpace’s redesign won’t necessarily turn things around, but it may help.

“The online buzz indicates that the redesign is being received positively,” he said in an e-mail. “I suspect the cosmetic changes will enhance traffic, but the jury is out if these changes will grow the audience in any material way.”

Lip Synch

The technology that Image Metrics Inc. uses to animate the faces of video game characters has traditionally relied on video showing a person talking, but now the company can make a character talk using only a sound recording.

The Santa Monica company has acquired the new technology along with FacePro, a small company based in Priest River, Idaho, that can animate a character’s mouth to match the sounds from an audio file.

Because animators don’t need a video of a voice actor, it will be cheaper for the company to produce animation with the new technology, said Chief Executive Michael Starkenburg. But although the technology is cheaper, it’s also lower quality.

“It’s not as good as video because it doesn’t animate the top half of the face,” he acknowledged. “But we needed a solution for a cost-effective way to move the face.”

Image Metrics will use the lip-synch technique for portions of a game when the player won’t be paying close attention to the person talking. Starkenburg said it gives Image Metrics the flexibility of lowering prices for customers – which include Santa Monica’s Activision Blizzard and Agoura Hills’ THQ.

“Now they can optimize their budget and spend the money on the shots that matter,” he said.

Titan Acquisition

Titan Gaming, a Santa Monica company that stages online tournaments for popular PC and online games, has acquired L.A. video game communication company Xfire.

Titan execs said they will use Xfire’s communication tools to let participants in their gaming tournaments talk to each other as they compete.

“We want to utilize their technologies to help our publishers get more engagement from users,” Titan Chief Executive John Maffei told the Business Journal.

Titan was founded in 2006 and has spent the last three years developing its tournament system technology, which will allow video game players to compete against each other to win cash and merchandise prizes.

The company will stage its first tournament in September. Maffei would not release details about the tournament, but said that Titan expects to work with video game publishers that could include Redwood City’s EA and THQ.

Tracking Deal

A downtown L.A. company that creates GPS tracking applications for cell phones has announced a deal to provide its friend-finding apps on Samsung smart phones.

The deal could mean more than 40 million more downloads, which would translate to increased revenue, for GTX Corp.’s application, which is currently available for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones, said GTX Chief Executive Patrick Bertagna.

The LociMobile tracking applications send a GPS signal out to all of a person’s cell phone contacts who use the app. Bertagna said the app can be used to meet up with friends or keep tabs on kids.

GTX has also developed a GPS shoe for tracking Alzheimer’s patients.

Staff reporter Natalie Jarvey can be reached at njarvey@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 230.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.