Before Close Friends, There Were Top Friends: The Impact of MySpace
In today’s world, everyone is used to checking in on their Facebook and Instagram feeds at any time of the day: at school, at work, in the kitchen, and in virtually any time or place one can imagine. Society is now so accustomed to this ease of access to social media and to the plethora of its different platforms available for us. In light of this, however, it is important to take a look into what started it all around almost twenty years ago in the phenomenon that was Myspace, and cover how it took the online world by storm, how it paved the way for the future of social media, and its ultimate downfall in the wake of the birth of Facebook and other platforms.
It is important to recognize that MySpace, created by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe in 2003 (Augustyn, 2020), wasn’t actually the first of its kind in a newly evolving online era. According to Sean Percival (2015), former VP of online marketing for Myspace, the social website actually started out selling e-commerce items until they saw the popularity that the social network service Friendster had amassed, which they then decided to mimic, mostly as a means of further pushing their e-commerce. It surpassed Google in 2006 as the most visited website in the United States and was valued at $12 billion in 2007 (Appleton, n.d.), and with that becoming the most visited social networking site. The service was clearly an enormous hit, having signed its 100 millionth user by 2006 (Peranzo, 2016). I myself was one of those users, logging on first thing when getting home from sixth grade, and spending hours upon hours customizing my profile and adding music, features that were crucial to building its huge success. You had the younger community like myself back then, as well as young adults, actively using the site and uploading pictures, where I remember seeing lots of black and white checkered Vans, “scene” outfits, and those innovative “duck face” and peace sign selfies. Those who weren’t MySpace users may ask themselves just what made MySpace so unique. It was a true innovator in allowing users to express themselves and share their thoughts long before Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
The entry for Myspace on the Encyclopaedia Britannica gives a short overview of the social platform service.
Myspace is a free, advertising-supported service that allows users to create Web “profile” pages that feature photographs, express their interests, and, most importantly, link to other people’s profiles. The site can be used to keep in touch with friends, “meet” and become friends with new people, or find potential romantic partners. (Augustyn, 2020, para. 2)
MySpace was an open platform allowing anyone to participate and share thoughts on different topics (Peranzo, 2016), and by August of 2006, it had signed its 100 millionth user. The site also created a competitive advantage in that it allowed and encouraged musical artists to promote themselves through it (Augustyn, 2020). MySpace had instant messaging and the aforementioned customization which was incredibly dynamic for its time and has yet to be mimicked by the big social media platforms, as it allowed users to embed video and music into their profiles and display flashing images and colors, as well as a “comments” section and the famed “Top Friends” section where one would display their closest friends, which, back in my days of using MySpace, caused a lot of drama and fighting amongst friends, similar to losing to your best friend in Mario Kart.
The main aspect of MySpace that really set it apart from its competitors back then and future platforms was the ability to style your profile with HTML and CSS codes, further enhancing the customization and expressiveness of the service. Nevertheless, the core aspects of easy communication and networking where what I believe to be the stepping stones that created a foundation for what was to come in the future for up and coming social network services. We may find ourselves asking what Facebook did to completely change the game and weaken MySpace’s popularity; however, the truth is that it wasn’t one sole factor that caused this but rather a number of both external and internal factors.
According to Appleton (n.d.), the new owners of MySpace, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, decided to focus on monetizing the service after purchasing the site in 2005 for $580m (Rushe, 2011). Appleton (n.d.) states that MySpace “began to flood their users with ads while doing very little to improve the user experience”. According to Pete Peranzo of Imaginovation (2016), MySpace suffered in not being able to attract older users and beginning to be perceived as a less safe version of its brand new rival, Facebook, due to malware, spam, and virus concerns which were never fully addressed. The service even attempted to rebrand itself as primarily a music site (Augustyn, 2020). Percival (2015) states that after the News Corporation purchase, the corporate policies began creeping in and as a result, MySpace began slowing down. According to him, it ultimately came down to Facebook focusing on doing one single thing great, as opposed to the many different things MySpace was attempting at the time. Facebook passed MySpace in numbers of users around 2009 (Rushe, 2011), and as more people dropped MySpace, so did advertisers. News Corporation sold MySpace to Specific Media and Justin Timberlake in 2011 for about $35 million (Augustyn, 2020). Ultimately, Facebook took what MySpace did well and expanded upon that, besides the coding customization, while also removing the instrusive aspects of MySpace that had turned off most of its users, particularly the annoying advertisements and overall explicit monetization strategies that affected the site’s visuals and interface.
A lot of the aforementioned traits of connectivity and networking that MySpace featured would migrate to Facebook, such as instant messaging, sharing photos and thoughts, and following and personalizing profiles. While the customization was never to the extent of MySpace, Facebook came hand in hand with the increasing popularity of smart phones and as a result, an even larger variety of people around the world began to create their profiles and connect with friends, family, and even strangers from around the world through Facebook. The concept of groups further amplified this connectivity, as joining groups became a way of connecting with those who share similar thoughts and listen to the same artists or watch the same movies, for example. It is safe to consider MySpace as the grandfather of Facebook, a service which introduced many of the unique traits found today in social media platforms, but ultimately failed to adapt to the market when headed by new owners without the know-how or familiarity of the relatively new market, and facing new and massive competition.
Appleton. (n.d.). MySpace: What happened and where is it now? https://www.appletoncreative.com/blog/myspace-what-happened-and-where-is-it-now/
Rushe, D. (2011, June 30). Myspace sold for $35m in spectacular fall from $12bn heyday. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/jun/30/myspace-sold-35-million-news
Dredge, S. (2015, March 6). MySpace — what went wrong: ‘The site was a massive spaghetti-ball mess’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/06/myspace-what-went-wrong-sean-percival-spotifyf
Peranzo, P. (2016, April 14). TBT: What Myspace taught us about social media. Imaginovation. https://www.imaginovation.net/blog/tbt-what-myspace-taught-us-about-social-media/
Augustyn, A. (2020, July 23). Myspace. Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Myspacecom
Dossett, M. (2011). Myspace Vs. Facebook [Photograph]. Letschatbusiness.wordpress.com. https://letschatbusiness.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/rise-and-fall-of-myspace-is-a-lesson-for-facebook/
Cafolla, A. (2015). Facebook’s new top friends feature is so MySpace [Photograph]. Dazeddigital.com. https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/25173/1/facebooks-new-top-friends-feature-is-so-myspace