Lately, the hugely popular social networking site MySpace has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Politicians and parents are worried about sexual predators and other illegal activity on the site. And Jupiter analyst Nate Elliot believes the membership numbers for MySpace — hovering around 60 million registered users — are deceptive. Most of these users create a page and never go back, he told ABC News.
So my question was whether MySpace was just the latest in a string of trendy online sites for social networking, including Friendster and arguably going back to the days of personal home pages with GeoCities and Tripod. Each site offered free tools to create your own space online, became hugely popular, but never became profitable. BusinessWeek was the latest to take a potshot at the social networking bubble.
I asked author and new media thinker Douglas Rushkoff what he thought about the MySpace phenomenon and he took the long view.
“MySpace itself is just one brand name on an activity that is here to
stay for a few centuries,” he told me via email. “Young people are using interactive technologies to off-set some of the desocializing effects of broadcast and commercial media. Young people are using technology to foster community. Meanwhile, big companies are scratching their heads, trying to get a handle on the fact that social currency — and not content — actually drives these communities. And, with no other alternative, big companies buy these communities and transform them into businesses — only to watch the participants move on to the next real community.”
Social networking researcher Danah Boyd makes some of the same points in a recent speech, where she explains the rise of virtual space for teens as a reaction to the loss of freedom in real spaces. “It is not the technology that encourages youth to spend time online — it’s the lack of mobility and access to youth space where they can hang out uninterrupted,” she said.
My question about MySpace was one of the most answered questions so far at MediaShift, as many of you had strong opinions one way or the other. Of the 16 comments, five said MySpace was a passing fad, six said it wasn’t, and five simply had other opinions to share.
Samuel was one of the readers who thought MySpace had some staying power, as long as it remained the go-to place among his peers.
“I believe that if MySpace can evolve as people want more and more out of it, it has a more than good chance of staying,” he wrote. “Pretty much everyone you ask has it, or will try it if you bring it up. All my friends are on there, and those who are not I’ve already introduced them into it. I’ve been part of it since it started, even when it wasn’t popular. I’ll be around until something better starts up and everyone switches over. At that point it would be pointless to stay with MySpace.”
That’s the network effect at work, where people will stay with the dominant service, like eBay for online auctions or Google for web search, making it more valuable for everyone involved. But a lot of you had complaints about MySpace, whether it was slow-loading pages or bad designs by users.
Nichole, who blogs at soleclaw, said that MySpace helped her get in touch with old friends, but quickly outlived its usefulness.
“MySpace is not my type of place because the free web service they offer is really lame,” she wrote. “All the personalized so-called ‘sites’ look the same — like an 11-year-old Hello Kitty fan created them. It’s too immature for my style, which is why I prefer Blogger. I think MySpace is already gone.”
Another reader, MG, said that one problem with MySpace is that there has been more pornography on the site — going against site rules.
“Yesterday I spotted a site with links to sex toys,” MG wrote. “That’s a no-no. When you mix sex toys, soft porn and 14-year-olds, it’s a recipe for legal disaster. I don’t mind bikinis and such but porn is unacceptable when you have minors online.”
Other folks took the opportunity to mention competing social networking sites that they preferred to MySpace. Casey Lewis, the 18-year-old blogger behind the Teen Fashionista blog, told me she thought MySpace would survive, but that Facebook had even more potential as a closed community for college and high school students.
“Because outlets like MySpace attract a large population for a variety of reasons (music, friends, interests), I believe they have serious staying power,” she wrote me in an email. “I browse MySpace, but I don’t actually have [a page there]. I think the original idea of Facebook is genius — a networking tool for college students. It has really gotten out of hand with incredibly promiscuous photos and obsene
comments, and the high school version is rowdy beyond its years!”
Someone posting anonymously figured that MySpace’s functionality will eventually be upgraded into our brains — or perhaps the brains of our grandchildren.
“I think MySpace will eventually die out when people have the technology implanted into their brains to send their personal thoughts and information, mental images and sound and feelings through certain wavelengths,” the person wrote.
Let’s just hope we don’t get overwhelmed with telepathic spam.