I was quoted in yesterday’s Observer, in an article by Jemima Kiss about the Myspace redesign.
Jemima contacted me via Twitter after I told her about ‘Quit Myspace Day’, and asked me a whole pile of really good questions. As is always the way with such things, she could only use a tiny fraction of what I wrote, so I’ll put the rest of it here. Enjoy! (I’ve paraphrased her questions, for the most part)
J: How useful was MySpace in the early days? How did you use it?
In the mid 2000s, MySpace accidentally filled a gap – the whole idea of adding a band as a ‘friend’ was revolutionary, and all of a sudden you had artists talking to their audience. For a whole load of tech-shy musos, the basics were there – music player, photo upload, gig list and a blog that acted as a newsletter. That it was happening at the heart of a youth social network was a double bonus – the sharing potential of that was massive, as kids put their favourite bands in their ‘top friends’ as a status symbol.
Sadly, that was also its downfall – the mutual friending thing meant that there was no way of differentiating between a spam-monkey who spent all day every day adding ‘friends’ to get their 75,000 friends happening, and an artist who genuinely had 75,000 listeners, and for whom that may well have been an indicator of them being interesting to people… So you then had an entire mini-industry built up around tools to game Myspace – auto-adding tools became the norm, not the exception, but because the system was so astonishingly rudimentary, there was no way of grouping contacts into those who were speculatively spammed with a friend request and those who were genuinely interested. Beyond about 5000 ‘friends’, the gig invites and mail-out side of things become functionally useless. Couple that to the horrible ‘pimp my profile’ automated customisation, complete with late 90s style animated gifs and bandwidth-hungry slideshows, and you’ve got yourself an cyber-dog’s-breakfast of a site.
J: Is there still a cool factor to MySpace compared to Facebook?
Not that I’m aware of – Myspace has become the ‘functionally tolerated norm’ – most musicians who are on there will tell you that the only advantage to it still is that bookers and venues still use it occasionally and it ‘ranks well in Google’. Dreadful reasons for maintaining a page!
J: What do you make of the redesign? How would you have redesigned it? What features have been or are still missing that would really make a difference to the band?
The problem with MySpace now is that it’s fallen between two (giant steaming) stools – it’s no longer THE social network – Facebook took over that ages ago – so sharing within users has all-but vanished, but it’s also not even close to equipped to provide a ‘complete’ web presence. Since 2006 it’s been playing catch-up, copying other services in order to try and stay in the game, but being too big to be agile, and having a paymaster that has no interest whatsoever in providing useful, accessible community-based tools for musicians.
At this point, Myspace is useless. I didn’t delete my MySpace page as a ‘protest’ – MySpace don’t care that I’m not there – I deleted it because it added confusion to my web-presence. It was an ugly, clumsy, inaccessible version of information that was available in a much better form elsewhere, that’s very easily found, and then shared.
J: How much difference does it make to how you feel about the site to know that it is owned by Rupert Murdoch? Are there any smaller indie sites you use to promote your music at have real potential?
The Murdoch thing caused a lot of my left-leaning friends to quit the site back when News Corps bought it. A surprising number, in fact. I didn’t, largely because it was at the time more useful to me as a protest tool than my lack of presence was to me as a statement. But Murdoch’s involvement makes perfect sense of why it’s become unusable and meaningless. News Corp have no interest at all in helping musicians. They just want ad traffic as a return on investment. The size of redesign and the cost of the roll-out that Myspace really needs, and the effort to socially re-engineer its use by the main drivers of traffic to it (musicians) just isn’t remotely cost effective in the short term, and would be a major gamble in the long term.
More and more musicians are realising that their web presence needs to ‘breathe’ – it doesn’t have to be in one place. So their music is best served on sites that are music specialists, like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, that are designed to be shared and embedded. Facebook is becoming more and more useful for musicians, and there’s a new social metric that’s occuring when an artist hits 5000 ‘friends’ on their personal profile and has to move that activity over to an artist page. Because the personal page is like Myspace, in that you can add as many people as you want and make yourself look popular, whereas your artist page is opt-in only, so may be a truer reflection of interest. It’s also a site built around sharing, so music fits really well in there.
And as WordPress, Posterous and Tumblr have got easier and easier to use, having a band site with a blog at its heart is no longer a nerd-thing to do. It’s easy, it’s interactive and it’s a great way for artists to form ad-hoc collectives and promote each other, without having to have a ‘top friends’ section on their profile.by