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Why we love to hate Myspace

myspace is 4 losers mulia photography

Myspace is gradually inviting users to "new Myspace," the first big refresh in the post-News Corp era, and already the claws have come out. We took a tour of the new site and found that its most remarkable quality seems to be how eager people are to bash it.

As with AOL, Internet Explorer, Yahoo, and other web properties perceived as dinosaurs, many users seem strangely eager to tear Myspace down over its struggles to remain relevant, as if the mere fact of its continued presence at myspace.com is offensive. The site’s death has been pronounced repeatedly. "MySpace was about to die a slow, painful, deserving death," blogger Giancarlo King wrote in a memorium earlier this year. "Browsing old abandoned profiles is like walking through a social media Chernobyl."

In the stretches between its highly-publicized redesigns, Myspace is most often referenced as a metaphor for obsolescence or in the context of the much-derided "Myspace angle." And yet it continues to be just relevant enough to draw spite from a vocal contingent of users.

Myspace has been declining for so long, you'd think kicking it around would get old

The morbid fascination with the Myspace saga is not unlike our persistent national obsession with Lindsay Lohan, whose cycle of failure and rehabilitation has become so predictable that it should have stopped being entertaining a long time ago. Myspace founder Tom Anderson, who is no longer involved with the site, apparently still has hecklers.

Myspace has been in decline for so long — Time named it one of the "Five Worst Websites" in 2007 — that you'd think kicking it around would get old. No one really rags on Friendster, the other proto-social network that flopped and became a gaming site popular in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Even compliments for the latest design are wrapped in caveats like "I can’t believe I’m saying this" and "I kind of actually like the new Myspace." Gizmodo titled its new Myspace review, "Just Die Already."

Some of the bile comes from people who invested time and energy into crafting their online personalities and accumulating internet fans, only to have the site turn passe. The story of how Myspace betrayed its users by flooding the site with spammy, gross ads has been told many times in articles like Businessweek’s "The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace," which opens with an anecdote from a loyal user who laments how Myspace had lost its value as a self-promotional tool: "It's done. It's a joke. If you do stuff on Myspace, you just look sad."

A good chunk of the hostility toward Myspace comes from the grown-up versions of its adolescent and teenage users, who want to leave their high school selves far behind. There’s also the Silicon Valley contingent, where entrepreneurs and investors beat up on Myspace in order to disassociate themselves from its failure and align themselves with its vastly more successful conqueror, Facebook.

Last but not least, the Los Angeles-based company has been proactive in publicizing its own trainwreck, most recently by trotting out celebrity investor Justin Timberlake in order to grab headlines.

The new Myspace is, in a word, confusing

Unfortunately for Myspace, the new site is likely to do little to repair its reputation. It is, in a word, confusing. You’re supposed to use the new Myspace to get updates from your favorite artists, listen to music on demand, and create multimedia playlists with photos and video. You can also upload photos, post tweet-like updates, and "discover" content by reading Myspace’s throwaway cultural magazine, a continuation of the Myspace music blog that features random celebrity news, listicles, and shallow articles on artists who are already well-known.

The mix of these many features, however, results in a counterintuitive and messy user experience, where there is a different menu on every screen. There are some organizational problems here, which seem to be the result of a decision to give the user lots of choices. On an artist’s page, for example, you can look at "music," "songs," or "albums."

On the page for OddFuture.com, at least part of which appears to have been scraped from the rap group's Twitter page, only one track shows up on the "music" and "songs" pages — but there are two fully listenable albums under "albums."

The new Myspace relies on a one-way subscribe feature called "connect." You can connect to Beyonce, connect to your friends, connect to a song, or connect to an album. You can also attempt to connect to your own uploaded content, for some reason, but Myspace will inform you that "You have no connections to this entity."

Connecting to artists and friends means their updates will appear in your feed, but it’s unclear why you’d want to connect to a song, album, or photo. Browsing around the site, we did a double take to see businesses like "Mr Appliance," a store in Oregon, broadcasting songs and albums. "Mixes" is another obtuse term, which can apply to playlists, multimedia playlists, or photo albums.

The site also has some nice features that work pretty well

The new Myspace does have a pleasing look — big photos, full-screen videos, and the ability to drag-and-drop content make the site feel very modern. The video quality isn’t uniform, however, with some ultra-crisp and others uncomfortably grainy.

The site also has some nice features that work pretty well. Just start typing anywhere on the site, and the page converts to a search box — no need to hunt for magnifying glass icon. Myspace’s playlist feature allows you to mix photos and videos in with the track list, presenting possibilities for creative expression and a new form of the digital mixtape. Myspace has also teased tools for artists, who can use the site to see who and where their fans are.

But overall, the new Myspace is a disappointment: an overengineered music site with other types of art lumped in as an afterthought. Its new owners, brothers Chris and Tim Vanderhook, bought the company at a steep discount from News Corp in the summer of 2011. The Vanderhooks co-founded a global digital advertising agency, but they have no experience with launching a self-contained consumer property like a social network and no track record of Myspace-level success. It seems as if they're attempting to take the devalued site and flip it, like a rundown house, into something halfway profitable.

The brothers told The Verge that the Myspace haterade is all coming from the Silicon Valley tech press, which is "out of touch with the average person." Still, they know the site’s reputation isn’t sterling.

"When we bought Myspace, we were not under this false impression, ‘oh everyone loves Myspace,’" Chris Vanderhook said. "We knew where the brand was, and it wasn’t highly favorable. For a lot of consumers, it fell out of relevance."

The Vanderhooks believe misfortune befell Myspace when its previous owner, News Corp, failed to realize that the site’s best hope for success was to become a platform for artists. By focusing on that, the brothers believe they can resurrect the brand.

The new Myspace is now in closed beta, which means users must either request an invite and wait to be let in or get one from a friend. There is no firm date on when it will open to the public. The current version of Myspace will be preserved, at least for a while, as "classic Myspace."

From here, the new Myspace looks like a tough sell because it’s kind of a Monet: pretty at first glance, but get up close and it dissolves into a jumble. Whether it flops or hits, one thing’s for sure — everyone will be watching.

The Verge
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