The death of MySpace: How Facebook won

MySpace logo
The old MySpace logo, featuring the slogan “a place for friends” which was used until 2009. (Photo from TechCrunch)

The Internet has evolved as a social tool throughout the years. Discussion with purpose was held on newsgroups, forums, and themed chatrooms. As the Web 2.0 era came to be, social networking was on the rise. Interaction was no longer limited to specific discussion. Sites like Friendster and Photobucket allowed users to share more of their true selves online. The biggest and most important social network of Web 2.0 was without a doubt MySpace, but as the times went on, it couldn’t survive into the next era.

It’s no secret that Facebook played a major role in the demise of MySpace, but for those who didn’t experience it, the elaborated reasons why may be unclear. The short version is that MySpace just couldn’t keep up with the times. The long version is a little more complex.

Comparisons

To start with a short timeline of MySpace and Facebook, MySpace was created in 2003 and Facebook was created in 2004. MySpace gained popularity in 2005, while Facebook became more popular around 2007-2008. During its peak in 2007 and 2008, MySpace had 75.9 million active users. Facebook surpassed this number at some point in 2008, which is also the same year it overtook MySpace’s Alexa ranking. As 2009 rolled around, the number of MySpace users went down, and Facebook users went up. By 2010, anecdotally speaking, MySpace was essentially a deadzone, with most users having moved on to Facebook.

What kept MySpace on top over Facebook, despite both being from the same era, was due to the fact that Facebook started off as a social network for college students to interact within their own network, whereas MySpace was a general social network in which anyone could connect. It wasn’t until a couple years after Facebook opened itself to the general public that it started to take off.

MySpace profile
An overly-customized MySpace profile full of bright colours and distracting graphics and patterns. (Screenshot from OhMySpace.com)

MySpace also allowed users to do more in its heyday vs. Facebook. Profiles were much more customizable, which was appealing to its main teenager userbase. MySpace profiles were almost like personal GeoCities pages of Web 2.0, in a way. HTML editing was both a pro and con. The pro was how it allowed users to personalize their profiles to express themselves any way they wanted, the con was that often times the editing was done by inexperienced users who would code a disaster of a page, or would use “profile builder” codes that contained viruses or other annoyances. A mixture of both created even more of a disaster. When it came to cleaner profiles, the ability to edit HTML could be seen as a good way for a user to practice their HTML skills.

Facebook had its fair share of cluttered profiles as the site got more popular. Users often embedded apps into their profile. More embedded apps meant slower, more cluttered profiles. Thankfully for Facebook, profile designs were changed to allow for better viewing.

Comparing the two in 2008, when both were at a considerable popularity, MySpace was still on top. Bulletins, status messages with emoticons, top 8 friends list, and many celebrity profiles were even more features that MySpace had on Facebook. All of that came to a fall very quickly as more MySpace users migrated to Facebook.

The 2010s and New MySpace

Facebook was growing and improving itself constantly, while MySpace, to put it simply, was stuck in the past. With less new features, MySpace users were choosing Facebook as their primary social media as more people they knew were creating accounts. Despite Facebook having changed its focus from college-only, the majority of MySpace users were teenagers who were college aged or nearing it. MySpace was already a collection of profiles personalized to teen tastes, so a website that refused to grow up likely didn’t help a user base that was trying to move on to something more “mature”.

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile 2008
Facebook profile layout circa 2008. Zuckerberg’s mini-feed displays some of the apps he used at the time. (Screenshot from E!)

Users moving on weren’t the only troubles of MySpace, as it also faced financial problems, management changes and layoffs. Tom Anderson, MySpace president and founder stepped down in 2009. During this time, MySpace tried its hardest to keep up with Facebook by redesigning itself, but by that point it was already too late. Though the site was already forgotten by many by 2011, MySpace had lost 10 million members between January and February of that year.

That same year, a bizarre move was made by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake in which they purchased MySpace for an “undisclosed sum”. Some sources cite this number as $35 million. In late 2012, Timberlake tweeted a video link presenting the “New MySpace”. New MySpace was made available to the public in January 2013. The focus on New MySpace was entertainment branding with musicians in mind. The major problem with that was the deletion of user content from the old MySpace. If you wanted to give MySpace a second go for nostalgia’s sake, or maybe log back into your old account to relive some memories, too bad, it was all gone. Unsurprisingly, this pissed off a lot of people as it was a loss of personal documents, pictures with friends and family, and even games that they had paid money for.

Combining outrage, minimal promotion, and an ultimate lack of interest, New MySpace can easily be labelled a flop that should have been handled differently.

The case for resurrection

New MySpace
The New MySpace in 2016, updated to meet the visual standards of today’s web. (Screenshot from Digital Trends)

Today, MySpace actually sees 12.7 million active users. But that number is meaningless when you compare it to other forgotten Internet services such as AOL, which has 2.1 million active users, but is no longer relevant in terms of popular Internet services.

New MySpace could have been an optimistic way to resurrect the site for the 2010s, but the number of changes and poor promotion caused it to flop quickly. Anyone wanting to access their old profile would disappointedly face the major loss of user content. Even if you wanted to make a new profile, Facebook as we know it already does what the new MySpace does and more. It’s not worth re-learning or even re-introducing at the moment.

It’s important to cite MySpace as a start of a social networking revolution, but for now it deserves more than anything to rest in peace rather than remain in purgatory.

What was your transition from MySpace to Facebook like? Share your story in the comments.

Have a suggestion for a future post? Have a net memory of your own that you’d like to share? Send an e-mail to thenetstorian@gmail.com.

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Author: The Netstorian

Internet culture enthusiast and creator of The Netstorian.

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