Fortune’s David Kirkpatrick recently wrote a column on MySpace striking back at the growing challenge by Facebook – the latest “next big thing” in social networking. What I found interesting about this article is not the competitive barbs traded by the competing giants or the under-reported achievements of MySpace – still the largest social network in the world and increasingly profitable. More salient was Kirkpatrick’s argument that maybe comparing MySpace and Facebook is misguided because they are the proverbial apple and orange – two different applications aimed at different audiences for different reasons.

I’ve got some serious beefs with MySpace (notably the deluge of spam and fake friends) but I’ve never seen it as a direct competitor of Facebook. The former is chaotic, loud and prone to abuses of all kind (privacy, graphic, language) but a heck of lot of fun for folks looking for the latest music hit or new friends. Numerous organizations, bands, artists and even fictional characters have their own profile. Though you can’t download many applications, there’s plenty of leeway to customize (or pimp) your site via graphics, music, photos and video to express your inner mojo. Facebook – for me at least – is a far more sedate and limited network where I can trade barbs and play games (e.g. “Where I’ve Been”)  with friends who really are friends. Advertising is much more limited and restrained and there is nary a sound to be heard. Think of it as your first appartment, rather than your college dormroom – the walls are cleaner and you’re more discriminating about who you invite. (To extend this comparison further, I use Linked-In as a tool for serious networking – the digital version of a rolodex.) So for me all this talk of a battle of behemoths misses the point – there is plenty of room for variations and it’s entirely possible to have profiles in several social networks. That said, all these networks will need to work hard to keep our attention and sustain their relevance – easy to join and easy to leave. The biggest challenge for any website or network is to stand out with all the choices and noise. For me, MySpace is too messy and commercialized and I like the efficiency of Linked-In and the easy dialogue on Facebook. Then again, it may just be that I’m getting older.