Image by Adam de la Mere.
Ah, it seems like only yesterday when MySpace was the biggest and most important website in the world. I remember attending a music biz pow-wow about five years ago and being told by a manager that as an artist I would not be taken seriously if I didn’t have a MySpace. Well, five years on and the opposite is almost certainly true—if you are a new artist and all you have is a MySpace, you are not going to be taken seriously.
There is an almost bewildering array of sites now dedicated to artist-uploads and legally sharing music. The biggest of these is probably Soundcloud, which this Wednesday is organising its first ever “meet-up”. Users of the site are gathering in cities all over the world, to meet face to face, and also to engage in jam sessions and round table discussion forums. This kind of pro-user approach is something that MySpace could have done with 2 or 3 years ago, extending its reach from the e-world into the real world, and bringing together its most active users. But, for whatever reason, it never happened. Now potential users are spoiled for choice, with the likes of Mixcloud, Bandcamp, Fairtilizer, ReverbNation and more vying for their music hosting.
For my money, MySpace in its prime was the best music based social networking site. Perhaps I am being nostalgic, but it gave great access to the visual and blog cultures that surround and hugely inform modern music, more so than the sites mentioned above. It was open to hacking and adjustment via code, so you could make your profile look the way you wanted. However, they fumbled the ball badly. I have to say it - you fucked it up guys. Majorly - and this is coming from someone who at one point had roughly 20 different MySpace profiles on the go, representing different acts, production aliases, and a couple of hard-to-hear soundtracks that deserved to be on the web. I haven’t logged in to my primary profile as the Niallist since last autumn.
So why the downturn? While it would be tempting to class this as yet another example of fickle generation Y, the truth is much more simple. MySpace treated its music uploaders like shit. I don’t know if this was a deliberate move on their part, or the result of not understanding a good thing when they had it. I guess it could be something to do with the site being bought by Murdoch, and any avenue of profit being bled dry. As a site of cultural importance it is long over, to the point where I think it is never even going to see a Bebo-style ironic/nostalgic resurgence.
MySpace constantly felt the need to model itself on Twitter and Facebook, sites which serve vastly different purposes. MySpace was never about fast flowing streams of information, where the profile itself is largely unimportant. Quite the opposite, MySpace was all about the profile, and being able to browse through lots of them at your own leisure. Now, the current staff can claim they are merely moving forward with the times, but this is at the expense of the functions that MySpace was originally great at. It just comes across as, at best misguided, and at worse desperate. Talk about killing the goose who laid the golden egg.
Some specific examples: the “download” function was disabled at some point around 2007, making sharing of music through the site impossible. Yet, the button remained on the music player, goading us with a function we couldn’t use for a good year or more, and giving other sites the chance to supersede them with much easier sharing and monetizing functionality. Also, it makes less than zero sense for a social networking site that claims to be trying to combat spamming to change their friend-adding process so that you can no longer screen friends’ requests. Anyone who requested you as a friend after Dec 2009 was automatically added to your friends list and able to message you and post on your comments wall, a huge boon for porn and spam bots everywhere.
The British music/new media blogger and lecturer Andrew Dubber started a campaign called “Happy Quit MySpace Day” that has grown in popularity hugely since its launch in 2009. Incredibly, one year later (when Dubber had asked people to delete their profiles) MySpace itself had a massive relaunch which simply made the site much, much worse. Aside from re-branding it as “My_____” (which is just asking for trouble), it now looks a confusing mess. The music content has become secondary. Old codes which could be easily manipulated by the user to their own desire don’t work anymore, meaning that some profiles, which had taken a long time to cultivate a certain look or a vibe, are now blank. Logging in reveals the true extent of the damage. It seems as if no-one at MySpace heeded any advice from musicians, bloggers, or respected insider voices like Dubber. They have blindly stuck to their guns of trying to turn it into a fast flowing info stream like Facebook, and as such have killed it.
Oh well, maybe this whole thing is just me getting old. Maybe a new generation of kids will re-discover MySpace, hack it and make it look good again—but you know what, my feeling on this is “why would they bother?” Their needs are better served by other networking sites. MySpace, for a while you were on to something amazing. But you blew it. Sorry.