From MySpace to Myspace
Myspace is a website which had a rather dramatic fall from grace. What was once the most popular social media site on the globe now stands as a virtual ghost town. While competition with Facebook is to blame for much of Myspace’s loss, it is not the only contributing factor; privacy abuse, poor design, and severe creative and financial mismanagement, all played critical roles. Myspace as a social network is typically ignored today, but examining it does have a function. Namely, by discussing Myspace’s features and history of failure, we can determine what qualities it was originally valued for, and why they could not keep the site alive. We can also determine whether or not Myspace, and by extension any similar sites, have something to offer to contemporary social media users which could save its reputation and cause a resurgence in popularity.
Arguably, the most important of these two factors is critical mass. In regards to this, Robards notes, “Given that users of both MySpace and Facebook connect with and Friend mainly people they already know offline […] without a critical mass of known contacts on a particular social network site, its functions have no utility” (392). Reflecting this perspective, many participants in Robards’s study (when providing testimonials on their uses of the two networks) reported that the primary reason they used Facebook was because their friends were on the network as well, and many stated that they originally used MySpace, but also adopted Facebook (in some cases exclusively) after they learned that more of their friends were on the latter site (392). The point evident from this information is fairly self-explanatory, yet vital to establish: that social media’s relevancy is fluid, in that the networks people use are chosen out of convenience more than optimal functionality. Not every user chooses a social network based on its features, but rather based on how many connections can be formed or maintained by using it.
But considering this, one must ponder why Facebook absorbed so much of MySpace’s critical mass over time. It should be noted that, from a 2010-2012 perspective, MySpace arguably offered greater functionality in terms of personalization and self-representation. In Kris Boyle and Thomas J. Johnson’s article “MySpace is your space?” the authors note that, “On MySpace, users can enhance their pages with music, color, graphics, and other visual elements that can serve as self-presentation tools” whereas Facebook has more limited options, and according to the data collected in that same article, Facebook users tended to customize and update their profiles less frequently (Boyle and Johnson 1394). Since self-expression is such an important part of social media, it stands to reason that this would set MySpace (as opposed to Myspace, the current iteration) apart from Facebook and grant it comparable longevity.
However, there is one factor from the aforementioned article which may partially explain why MySpace’s popularity was so temporary. At one point, the authors state that, generally speaking, a user’s age influences the degree to which they self-present online. They write, “Specifically, adolescent users are more willing to experiment online with self-presentation strategies, or reference themselves more, than older users […] They spend more time with self-presentation because they view it as a means to creating more friendships” (1395). While this distinction may seem somewhat arbitrary, it affects where a social network’s critical mass will flow to in substantial way. In the Robards study, the author notes that amongst his experiment’s participants, many who used MySpace claimed that they would eventually start using Facebook as well (or exclusively) because they saw it as a more “adult” social network (Robards 393). Robards notes that, “the ‘introspective’, ‘about me’, and ‘to the point’ characteristics […] that make MySpace unique can also be retrospectively framed as ‘juvenile’ […]” while Facebook seems to market itself to adults by focusing on dynamic social interactions and maintaining relationships; and also that some participants, including a fifteen year old named Simon who only used MySpace, thought of the transition from MySpace to Facebook as a “rite of passage” carried out when a social media user becomes an adult (393). Of course, MySpace never entirely relied on young people’s profiles for its success, but this dynamic where MySpace users often felt obligated to distance themselves from the site as they grew older, reveals a significant factor for why it could not compete with its main competition. If a large portion, even maybe a majority, of users on a social network think of it as something childish and temporary, then it is bound to be outgrown in some capacity. Self-reflexive social media, despite what one would think, does not appear to be the most dynamic or robust way to create relationships online, and inn this case it dates MySpace’s creative vision considerably.
This aspect of MySpace/Myspace’s history is compounded by the mismanagement which has made it progressively less appealing over the years. Firstly, Myspace’s “openness” when it comes to self-presentation and privacy has caused many security issues over the years, including, as Tom Jowitt’s article “Tales in Tech History: Myspace” reports, an incident when almost three hundred and sixty million users’ data was offered on the “Real Deal” dark market website, and another embarrassing moment when a security researcher found that any old Myspace account could be accessed just by knowing some basic user information (Jowitt Silicon). Myspace’s freedom of personalization has also lead to a somewhat high frequency of abuse towards its younger audience, such as incident cited by Jennifer Golbeck in Introduction to Social Media Investigation: A Hands-On Approach in which, “a South Carolina swimming coach was arrested for […] Using fake accounts [to befriend] two 13-year old girls” and have them “send him sexually suggestive photos” (Golbeck 197). This type of abuse is not unique for a social network, but if a website is unsafe and unstable, it will face backlash as Myspace has.
Secondly, the fact that Myspace has changed owners so many times has left the site with a bit of an identity crisis–one which complicates that final question of whether or not Myspace has anything to offer the average user nowadays. Olivia Solon’s article “Meet the people who still use Myspace” gives an adequate run-down of the state of the site recently and its various owners. In summary, Myspace has been owned by a news corporation, online advertising companies, and has even been creatively helmed by one of its largest investors, Justin Timberlake; and the truth is that unlike other social networks, Myspace’s true value today comes from the data it has collected from its users over the years, which it sells to advertisers (Solon The Guardian). As a result of this, Myspace has in essence become a cesspool of advertisements, a hub for celebrity news, and a platform for musicians to network and promote their songs. Even for a site which has always had a connection to the musician community, these changes are rather drastic and are not necessarily appealing to the average user. Furthermore, as Solon explains, most of Myspace’s critical mass and original functionality have been stripped away with its several redesigns. If one looks at the website in its 2019 form, they will notice that few accounts are actually active, and that “Users can no longer customise their profiles with cursor animations, script fonts and other basic coding” (Solon). For a website which once prided itself on facilitating personal expression, Myspace has become a bland and characterless. Largely speaking, even if Myspace had the critical mass necessary to allow a reversal of its negative reputation, it would still not have the functionality to make it an enjoyable site to engage with. Despite the fact that the site is technically meant for musicians now, the library of music it offers is limited, and the only way for artists to promote themselves is to either add it to their add their songs to the “portfolios” and/or “mixes” pages on their profiles. Compared to other music-discovery sites such as Soundcloud, Myspace is pitifully basic. Few, if any, ways to properly advertise music or customize a profile beyond adding photos and tracks exist on the site anymore, and it no longer has the universal appeal of being “a place for friends” either. As a social network, Myspace is barren in purpose.
What can be gathered from all of the information that has been summarized and analyzed is that Myspace’s greatest weakness, in the end, was its dated appeal and lack of consistent creative vision. One common problem social networks face is that the gimmicks on which they are based eventually become unexciting, and Myspace stands as one of the greatest examples of this. Being a site mainly appealing to adolescents (intentionally or not), Myspace already had a risk of losing its support base. But more importantly, the concept of making friends by customizing a profile representing the user, while appealing in short term, did not grant Myspace room to grow. However, unlike sites such as Facebook or Instagram, which have slightly changed over time to overcome limitations, becoming more versatile platforms, Myspace’s answer to this problem has been to radically change its design and purpose with each new owner, alienating its original audience in the process.
Instead of writing off Myspace as a distant memory, it is important to recognize what first made it appealing and what caused it to fail, and therefore help future entrepreneurs and web designers prevent similar mistakes. Doing so can also help predict what may happen to now-popular social networks in the future. For example, if there is a social network which relies too heavily on one demographic, the example of Myspace illuminates the possibility that this site may need to widen its appeal, or else face decline after that demographic grows old of it. Myspace has also shown that social networks which focus on dynamic communication between users often have greater longevity than ones which are preoccupied with self-promotion. And finally, while the future is uncertain, so far it seems that Myspace has shown one reason why a social networking site which experiences such a meteoric fall may have trouble recovering, which is a loss of functionality that isolates it from the audience it once attracted. Not every social network will be like Myspace, and it is impossible to predict what concepts will last beyond the immediate interest or become popular in the future. But, right now, it seems safe to say that Myspace has almost nothing to offer the digital world of 2019, and will not be able to win back the love it had without yet another ludicrous overhaul of its entire system.
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