Myspace reborn: Hands on with a social networking comeback

I’ll be honest—until very recently, I hadn’t visited Myspace.com since 2008. By that time, Facebook was the king of social networks and Myspace was just the court jester, often mocked as an outdated platform with tacky user profiles mainly frequented by high school students, creepy men, and scenesters.

But in September 2012, Myspace announced a total overhaul and redesign. A flashy video trailer starring Justin Timberlake showed off a fresh, side-scrolling layout, with large pictures, a music player, and a new way to interact with other Myspace users. People started talking and headed over to the site to request early access to the new Myspace beta site. Everyone wanted in, but invitations were scarce.

Myspace was suddenly cool again.

New Myspace finally opened to the public on January 14, and the initial buzz has continued. I started using the site regularly again in November 2012; here’s an account of my rediscovery of the newest old social network on the block.

Not your old Myspace

The first thing to note is that the original Myspace.com (now referred to as Classic Myspace) and New Myspace are, at present, completely different sites. If you still have active Classic Myspace accounts, your profiles won't be imported to the new site automatically, though you can  to create your New Myspace account. (Alternatively, you can create your account by logging in through Facebook or Twitter.) 

Here's what a New Myspace profile looks like. Scroll to the right to see a user's activity.

It has come a long way since the beloved, gaudy (ugly) customizable profiles of the early 2000s, but Classic Myspace still focuses on connecting with friends—an almost hopeless objective considering that Facebook has become ubiquitous as a tool for that purpose.

Classic Myspace certainly needed an overhaul.

New Myspace is about discovering new people, artists, music, and other content, and connecting to an individual’s work in a different way. The site layout has an altered look and feel from its older sibling, along with a new login page at new.myspace.com.

Ali Tahmasbi, Myspace’s vice president of product development, explains that the team needed to start from scratch to create what it wanted. “The legacy code from our old site was hard to build on, so we had to make the investment in a brand-new site,” he said.

Signs of the old dog

You will, however, notice some echos of the Myspace of old in various features of the new site. For example, users can still pick their Top 8 friends, a feature that lets you pin selected users to your homepage in a highly visible spot. (When I started using Myspace back in 2004, landing a spot in someone’s Top 8 was a high honor; and being bumped from a friend's Top 8 was like a virtual slap in the face. Let the new Top 8 wars begin.)

We'll never forget Tom, our first friend on the original Myspace.

Another relic that made the cut is the Profile Song. Users can select a song to automatically start playing when other Myspace users visit their page. This song is easy to change, and New Myspace has an impressive collection of tracks to choose from (more on that later.) Also still on hand is Tom Anderson, more commonly known as just Tom, the founder of Myspace who used to be everyone’s first friend by default. Tom is no longer officially with the company, but he’s a regular user and he still sports the same profile picture he’s had since the beginning.

Gone are the days when Myspace users had to copy and paste massive amounts of code into the correct box on the Edit Profile page in order to alter their background and page layouts. Users can still customize their profile page, but the changes involve photos instead of code. Every profile features a large spotlight image, which is similar to a Facebook cover photo, but much larger and much more prominent.

Tahmasbi notes that keeping some customization options open is an important part of what makes Myspace Myspace: “Self-expression generates a lot of conversation about what is creative and what isn’t,” he says.

Get yourself connected

Creating your New Myspace profile is a snap; just sign up, fill out the profile fields, upload a cover photo and a profile photo, select a profile song, and voilà: You’re done. That’s the easy part. Navigating the site is not intuitive, so you’ll want to step through the tutorial for beginners the first time you log in.

Once you've logged in, the site will direct you to your Stream, which is the main place for keeping track of your connections’ activity. Think of Stream as your Facebook Newsfeed or your Twitter feed. But instead of scrolling vertically, the Stream scrolls from side to side, with the home navigation control box always visible in the upper-left corner, and your music player and other controls permanently fixed along the bottom deck. For trackpad users, scrolling from side to side is easy; for mouse users, it may take a little getting used to. The site responds to a scroll wheel on a mouse by moving content from side to side rather than up and down on the page.

Check out your Stream to see what your connections are up to.

The Stream definitely has room for improvement. Navigation and scrolling are often pretty laggy, especially when you’re listening to music or watching a video through picture-in-picture. I also found the Stream to be overwhelming at times—noisy and busy, with no way to filter the information you’d actually like to see on your Stream. Seeing new photos that my connections have posted is great; seeing that Billy connected to Susan and 12 other new users is boring, and dominates an already busy feed.

Unfortunately, your Stream is no good until you make some Connections. Connect is the social relationship model that Myspace uses to organize how users connect and share with other users. It’s a unidirectional model—you connect with a person, and then than that person chooses whether to connect back with you. When you connect with others, their activity will show up in your Stream. But only when parties establish two-way connections can they fully share content and information: You can’t leave a note on another user’s profile, send a private message, or engage in a chat unless the connection is mutual. Nevertheless, if a user has a public profile, you can view all of that person's public content—which includes activity, photos, connections, and mixes. Hovering over other users' profile icons will show the connection level you share—a filled left bubble means that you have connected with them, a filled right bubble means that they have connected with you, and a completed circle shows that you both have connected to each other.

Your navigation box stays with you as you move around Myspace.

One of New Myspace’s major imperfections involves its privacy settings. The site offers little in the way of customizable privacy controls—though you can opt to have a private profile, where you must approve of your connections before they can view your entire page or see your activity. You can’t pick and choose what information you share with particular connections, either, apart from privatizing your music queue and deleting activity posts after they’re already live. It’s either all in or all out.

To post an update, click the blue Post button on the left. You have 150 characters to work with, and you can tag each post with a song, photo, or location. Tahmasbi said that the simple posting page encourages users to add multimedia content to their posts, not just words. Posts show up on your own profile page, as well as on the Streams of people who have connected to you. In fact, all of your activity around the site shows up on your profile—when you listen to a song, make a new connection, comment on a photo, or do anything in between, your connections will see what you’re up to. You can hide your music activity by switching your deck from Public to Private; and you can delete posts, which removes them both from your profile and from other users’ Streams.

To search the site, just start typing—Myspace doesn’t use a traditional search bar, so when typing anywhere on the screen other than in a designated posting box launches the Search tool. Results are sorted by type; you’ll see songs, artists, albums, people, mixes (playlists), and videos associated with your search term. Finding bands and strangers to connect to is a breeze, but there's no way to tell whether your real-life friends are on the site, except by searching for them one-by-one. Let's hope that, down the road, we'll have a way to find and connect with all of our overlapping Facebook, Twitter, or even Classic Myspace friends.

Search results are sorted into different categories.

Connecting with content

Connections are not just for discovering people. You can also connect to songs, photos, and other content. When you connect to content, Myspace adds it to your Library, where it is categorized by content type: Songs, Albums, Videos, Mixes, or Photos. It’s a handy way to keep track of content that you’ve discovered around Myspace and think you’ll want to visit again later.

If you come across a mix or album that you want to listen to (but may not want to add to your library), simply click the song to start playing it. The site adds tracks to your Queue in the deck at the bottom of the page; you can drag and drop tracks in any order to create a playlist. You can also add saved songs, albums, or mixes from your Library to your Queue. New Myspace also has a Pandora-like Radio feature that lets you listen to stations based on a specific genre or artist.

Another feature that debuts in New Myspace is the Mix, which involves more than just a series of songs. For example, if I wanted to make a Mix about my best friend, I could add photos of the two of us, our favorite songs, and video clips that make us laugh. You could also make a Mix of just photographs from a recent trip that you took, or a Mix of just songs and videos—it’s completely up to you.

Make a multimedia Mix to share with your connections.

Looking for suggestions about popular profiles or content to check out? Browse through the Discover page, which features trending stories and content from around Myspace.  You’ll see newly released songs and music videos promoted here, along with collections of trending YouTube videos, photographs, and special-interest articles about other Myspace users. Check out songs that currently enjoy the highest rotation on Myspace, or mixes that have attracted a lot of interest.

A place for creative people

Above all, New Myspace is designed to be a mecca for creative people of all kinds. This has always been one of Myspace’s strong suits (for musicians, in particular), but New Myspace structures the artist presentation, content hosting, and sharing features inside a far cleaner, “designed” environment. Artists can use Myspace as a portfolio of sorts, and their fans can use it to follow artists they like and to keep abreast of fresh content and news updates.

Who are you? Pick the creative type that you must identify with.

Originally, the Myspace team saw the new site as a launching platform mainly for musicians, according to Tahmasbi, and Classic Myspace did turn into a large music community. But New Myspace will try to provide homes for all sorts of artists, not just musicians. When you sign up and make your profile on the new site, you’re asked to select a template based on the creative label you identify most with; options include musician, photographer, artist, and writer, among others. Though the team anticipated a large music audience, a surprisingly large number of photographers were attracted to the site, too, so the developers decided to add some photo features to meet their needs.

“As we see more people on here, we’ll create different templates for different types of creatives,” Tahmasbi said.

Meanwhile, New Myspace still offers a lot for bands and solo musicians. Tahmasbi explained that Myspace has a standing arrangement with numerous major record labels that permits users to stream a wide variety of music. For now, users can stream unlimited amounts of music on the site ad-free, but ads may come in the future.

Unsigned bands can upload their own tracks to their profile and share them with their fans for extra exposure. The layout of a musician's page will differ from that of a traditional Myspace profile page; it’s a place to show music, videos, and events by the artist. You’ll also find links to similar artists, and to artists that the band lists as having influenced it.

A music page shows songs, videos, and events for the artist, plus other fans who have made connections.

Fans can also connect with other fans of an artist. New Myspace introduced a concept called Top Fans, which shows who interacts with a paticular artist the most. The coveted Top Fan spot is based on overall Myspace activity (how many connections a user has, how often the person posts, and so on) and on influence (how often the person shares information about the band with connections and how wide the person's reach is).

“Artists can see who their top recruiters and ambassadors are,” said Tahmasbi, “and it also adds a gamelike strategy for the fans.” If an artist announced plans to reward the Top Fan in some way, this would likely spark competition between fans who wanted to win.

Big picture: Will it stick?

As it stands, New Myspace offers a different user experience than you'd get at any other social network. It’s more inviting to exploration than Facebook, more interactive than Tumblr, and more emphatic than Google+. It’s clearly a major step up from Classic Myspace, and I would even go so far as to say that its music-streaming capabilities make it a competitor of other Web-only music-streaming sites, like Grooveshark. It may also challenge other band-hosting and music distribution sites like Bandcamp.

From a content discovery perspective, New Myspace has some real potential. Videos and photos shine in this format, and the Mixes feature is simply unavailable elsewhere.

Though many people may wonder whether New Myspace will surpass Facebook, that’s not the right question to ask. The two sites serve different purposes and different audiences. If the community continues to grow, and the developers continue to improve and enhance the site, Myspace may just come back around.

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