News Corp. has chosen a former Facebook executive to lead MySpace, the company said Friday, a day after announcing that the current CEO would step down.
Owen Van Natta, a former Facebook chief revenue officer and vice president of operations, has become MySpace CEO effective immediately, replacing Chris DeWolfe.
Van Natta will report directly to Jonathan Miller, the former AOL CEO who was appointed several weeks ago as News Corp.'s CEO of digital media and chief digital officer.
Van Natta, who also worked at Amazon.com as vice president of worldwide business and corporate development, comes to MySpace from online music company Playlist, where he had been the CEO.
In a statement, Miller said Van Natta brings a "deep understanding" of social networking that coupled with his business and operational experience will let him guide MySpace to its next growth phase.
Van Natta arrives at a time when MySpace, once the undisputed champion of social networks, has lost its leadership position to Facebook.
By tapping someone who was closely involved in building up Facebook to what it is today, News Corp. is clearly hoping MySpace will get a quick infusion of best practices and strategy that will let it recover lost ground.
In March 2008, the Fox Interactive Media sites, including MySpace, had 88.3 million U.S. unique visitors, a figure that dropped to 85.1 million last month, according to comScore. In that same time period, Facebook's U.S. unique visitors grew from 36 million to 61.2 million.
Globally, Facebook sped past MySpace last year. In December, Facebook attracted 108.3 million unique visitors worldwide, while MySpace had 81 million, according to Nielsen Online.
Facebook recently announced it had reached 200 million monthly users. News Corp. said Wednesday that MySpace has 130 million "passionate followers" worldwide and 1,600 employees.
Between December 2007 and December 2008, time spent by users on Facebook exploded by 566 percent, from 3.1 billion minutes to 20.5 billion minutes, Nielsen Online said in a report released last month. With this user engagement, Facebook had the highest average time per person -- 3 hours and 10 minutes -- of the 75 most popular online brands worldwide, according to Nielsen Online.
Experts attribute Facebook's popularity rise to several factors, including its appeal to a broader scope of people thanks to what many perceive as a more organized and controlled environment. For example, most Facebook members use their real names, which isn't the case with MySpace, and Facebook's layout is more streamlined and clean.
Facebook also offers very granular privacy controls, giving members many options to fine-tune access to their profiles and data. In addition, Facebook was first out of the gate with opening its site to applications from external developers, a move that has helped to increase its attractiveness to users.