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MySpace's legendary contempt for its users comes to the fore once more: recently, they bought Imeem, an online music service that let users embed streamable playlist widgets in their web sites, allowing users to (legally) stream music. As soon as they did so, Imeem was shut down, replaced with a notice telling people to use MySpace. As for users' embedded playlists? Well, they've been replaced with obnoxiously garish ads for downloadable ringtones.
Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) writes about the uncanny experience of finding that someone else created a MySpace page in your name:
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street and see somebody that looks a lot like you. No really, the resemblance is striking and disturbing apart from the fact that your doppelganger looks like he or she threw up over themselves. And pooped their pants. What little pants they have.
Later you meet a friend who tells you that you look a lot better than when they saw you yesterday. No, you say, that’s not me, just somebody who looks like me except they pooped etc. etc. But your friend and others don’t believe you - they think you’re a sly pooper. Infuriating! You’d really like to get that fake and give it a shake!
And that’s how I feel when yet another MySpace page shows up for my poor old dead band. It looks like it pooped itself. And there are ‘friends’ there. (No link to here of course, that’d give the game away.) Of course these aren’t really my friends and they don’t really want to do anything but advertise their own emo myspace pages. But like Mike Jones once said - you had better get rid of that if you don’t want people to think you are utterly sopping clueless.The thing that struck me was the phrase "advertise their own emo pages"; those five words seem to sum up the MySpace ethos: adolescent attention-seeking behaviour reengineered as marketing, or "Brand You" as the new face of teen-angst. Why wait for someone to notice the scars on your wrists when you can spam everyone and let them know how awesome the darkness of your soul is and why, consequently, they should totally want to be friends with you? We're all our own rock stars, the MySpace ethos tells us, even if we've never played anything other than Guitar Hero and merely rock a Hot Topic wardrobe and some smeared eyeliner; which also means that we're all marketers, constantly pitching ourselves to the world in the way that a shark constantly keeps swimming forward.
As you know, tin is in my blood. For generations my family has worked with this most useful of metals. When I joined Yahoo! back in '21, it was a sheet-tin concern of great momentum, growth and innovation. I knew it was the place for me.Butterfield and Fake join a number of illustrious figures leaving Yahoo! recently. It is not clear what will happen to Flickr now; presumably it will continue on on its considerable momentum, until whoever's in charge at Yahoo (or Microsoft or News Corp. or whoever ends up buying it) cocks everything up, or else does a mp3.com and trashes it, replacing it with a craptacular new site also named flickr.com.
Speaking of craptacular sites, MySpace are redesigning their website to minimise some of the clutter, and have enlisted the services of design consultancy Adaptive Path. It's not clear how much suck they will end up removing, or whether the site will be significantly less unpleasant to use.
French broadsheet Le Monde has published a map of the popularity of various social network sites across the world. This map reveals that MySpace dominates in the USA and Australia, whereas the UK, Canada and Norway prefer Facebook. Which brings to mind the statistics about average IQs of countries, which place the UK's average at 100 and the US and Australia's at 98.
Interestingly enough, the chart lists LiveJournal as a Russian website, despite the fact that it began in, and operates out of, the US, though Russia has been a significant market for it and is now owned by a Russian concern.
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MySpace's legendary contempt for its users has now extended to deleting the Atheists & Agnostics group with 35,000 members, apparently because its existence offended some religious hardliners.
“It is an outrage if Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the world’s largest social networking site tolerate discrimination against atheists and agnostics-- and if this situation goes unresolved I’ll have little choice but to believe they do,” said Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain of Harvard University. News Corporation, Murdoch’s global media corporation which also includes Fox News, purchased MySpace in 2005.The group has now been undeleted; here is more on the incident from the group's moderator, Bryan Pesta:
We were deleted two years ago due to complaints from a group called the "Christian Crusaders." They would search Myspace for profiles they found offensive, and then mass complain to customer service. Their strategy was to send so many emails to customer service that someone, somewhere at Myspace would delete the profile or group.
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Brad Fitzpatrick, the founder of LiveJournal and architect of OpenID, has put forward his thoughts on the social graph problem — which is to say, the present state of affairs in which each social software application has its own social graph (of which user is connected to whom) which its users have to independently maintain — and how to go about aggregating these graphs into something less unwieldy:
Currently if you're a new site that needs the social graph (e.g. dopplr.com) to provide one fun & useful feature (e.g. where are your friends traveling and when?), then you face a much bigger problem then just implementing your main feature. You also have to have usernames, passwords (or hopefully you use OpenID instead), a way to invite friends, add/remove friends, and the list goes on. So generally you have to ask for email addresses too, requiring you to send out address verification emails, etc. Then lost username/password emails. etc, etc. If I had to declare the problem statement succinctly, it'd be: People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site., but also: Developing "Social Applications" is too much work.
Facebook's answer seems to be that the world should just all be Facebook apps. While Facebook is an amazing platform and has some amazing technology, there's a lot of hesitation in the developer / "Web 2.0" community about being slaves to Facebook, dependent on their continued goodwill, availability, future owners, not changing the rules, etc. That hesitation I think is well-founded. A centralized "owner" of the social graph is bad for the Internet.Brad has written down a set of goals for a project to open up the social graph, in a way that allows sites to interoperate gracefully. This will include a common infrastructure that manages the social graph data, within an architecture which (much like OpenID) allows anyone to operate their own servers, and prevents any one entity from owning the graph. This will have an API, which returns all equivalent nodes of a node (i.e., given an identity on one service, the owner's identities on all other services registeded), the edges in and out of a node, the aggregated friends of a node across all services, and any missing friends (i.e., any pairs of nodes connected on one service but not another).
From the user's point of view, this will allow some fairly nifty magic to happen, saving users the hassle of registering on yet another social network site and rounding up their friends:
A user should then be able to log into a social application (e.g. dopplr.com) for the first time, ideally but not necessarily with OpenID, and be presented with a dialog like: "Hey, we see from public information elsewhere that you already have 28 friends already using dopplr, shown below with rationale about why we're recommending them (what usernames they are on other sites). Which do you want to be friends with here? Or click 'select-all'."Brad acknowledges that there will be uncooperative sites, who, owning the lion's share of the social-networking sphere, don't see it in their interest to prioritise interoperating with other sites (no names are named, though I'm betting that it'll be a cold day in Hell before MySpace plays nice with something like this; after all, it may tip their users off to the existence of other sites and depress banner-ad impressions). Thus he proposes a browser add-on which implements the system on uncooperative sites, by means of screen-scraping.
What's happening with this proposal? so far, they have prototypes of the APIs, working on the data for 5 sites (LiveJournal and Vox are, not surprisingly, two of them), the start of a Firefox plug-in to drag MySpace, kicking and screaming, to the party, and the start of a website allowing users to register their points of presence in social networks; a limited beta is expected at some time in the future. There are apparently a lot of people from different organisations working on this, much as there were on the OpenID project, and a Google group has been set up for discussion of the details.
Note that this only covers social network (i.e., "x is a friend of y") data, and not the actual content (birthdays, photos, favourite movies/bands). There is another project named Move My Data, which aims to make the actual user data portable between accounts, though so far it seems to consist of a vague proposal.
A study of social network website users in the US has shown a class divide between MySpace and Facebook users. Apparently Facebook has more users from wealthier homes and more academic backgrounds, while MySpace has more working-class teenagers, minorities and members of social groups ostracised by the popular kids in high school (this may include music- and fashion-related youth subcultures).
MySpace outage leaves millions friendless; aid workers fear long-term psychological damage:
"I lost 6,456 of my best friends in an instant," said Minneapolis resident Peter Steinberg, 20, who has loyally befriended as many profiles as possible over the past two years. "Nothing can describe how devastated I feel. Some of these people I've exchanged two, even three comments with, and I can't tell you how many ROTFLMAOs we've shared, too."
Corey "Aqualad" Friesen, 18, of Danville, IL appeared to share Mancuso's fears about manual and analog socializing. "I vaguely remember trying to make friends pre-MySpace, but in 16 years, I only made three real friends," Friesen said. "If I have to revert back to face-to-face friend gathering, I would be middle-aged before I built that number into the double digits. I'd definitely never get back into the hundreds again."
"Without an 'About Me' section, I've lost all sense of self," said Imbrescia, 17, who depends on the site to convey his innermost thoughts to millions of extended-network friends. "Do I want kids? How tall am I? What's my body type? These are questions I can't answer anymore. I'd pray to a god for help, but I've lost my religion field."
In the landscape of the user-generated web, MySpace stands alone. Not because of any technical superiority or leadership; in fact, the site itself gives off a strong whiff of inelegance and half-bakedness. It stands alone, quite literally, by refusing to play nice with rival websites. MySpace is a jealous god, whose first commandment is "thou shalt have no other sites before me". Hence its "blog" functionality has no RSS feeds or permalinks, it doesn't ping or query other sites, and don't even think about APIs or mashups. MySpace may be mentioned in the same breath as "Web 2.0" (much in the way that, say, Lily Allen is "underground hip-hop"), but it is strictly Web 1.0; very Old Testament.
Up until now, MySpace's lack of interaction has been a passive one; users could embed third-party content from other sites in their pages. But now, MySpace has started blocking links to rival sites like photo-sharing site PhotoBucket.
What doesn't make sense is Fox's assumption that the MySpace stronghold (81 percent of the social networking market) can withstand a backlash from developers and users who prefer a more open environment -- even one that hosts ads and the Flash-based widgets that MySpace says are a security threat. In the end, MySpace is just one mass migration away from becoming Tripod.
The company's efforts to circle the wagons and push offending third-party widgets from its site comes at an interesting time. Its closest competitor, Facebook, has unannounced (but confirmed) plans to open its site to third-party widgets for the first time. Ultimately, the two sites could come to resemble each other, but which will users prefer?MySpace users are a stoical lot, willing to put up with having their spaces plastered with flashing, buzzing ads and to make do with late-20th-century levels of functionality in the age of the dynamic mashup; however, some are speculating that as Murdoch tightens his grip and attempts to get value from the $580 million he spent on the site, users will realise that MySpace is not their space but the online equivalent of a tightly controlled shopping mall and move on to more open sites.
What News Corp. doesn't want you to know about MySpace. It turns out that the grass-roots indie-hipster youth web sensation is actually nothing of the sort, but actually the product of a shady spam/adware company:
The whole site is, in essence, a marketing tool that everyone who registers has access to. Users constantly receive spam-like messages from said bands, business, and individuals looking to add more "friends" (and therefore more potential fans, consumers, or witnesses) to their online identity. A testament to this strange new social paradigm is the phrase "Thanks for the Add," a nicety offered when one MySpace user adds another as a friend. Best yet, to use the site, members must log in, causing them to inadvertently view advertisements, and then read their messages on a page with even more advertisements. In the world of MySpace, Spam is earth, air, fire, and water.
3. Tom Anderson did NOT create MySpace. Most users don't know that Tom Anderson (pictured) is more of a PR scheme than anything else--the mascot designed to give a friendlier feel to a site created by a marketing company known for viral entertainment websites, pop-up advertising, spam, spyware, and adware. As MySpace's popularity grew, the MySpace team moved to create a false PR story that would best reflect the ideals and tastes of its growing demographic. They wanted to prevent the revelation that a Spam 1.0 company had launched the site, and created the impression that Tom Anderson created the site, and the lie worked. According to Anderson, the bulk of his initial contribution is as follows: "I am as anti-social as they come, and I've already got 20 people to sign up."Which goes some way towards explaining the numerous irritating, spammy, user-hostile design decisions all over MySpace. If this article is true, then being acquired by Murdoch may have even made MySpace less evil.
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An interesting article, by danah boyd, on the social dynamics of Friend relations in social software, predominantly Friendster and MySpace:
The most common reasons for Friendship that I heard from users  were:Boyd, er, boyd describes some ways in which the design of a social-network implementation (i.e., is Friendship transitive, what information is displayed about users, how access to information is controlled, and whether or not friendships can be ranked) influences the social dynamics:
- Actual friends
- Acquaintances, family members, colleagues
- It would be socially inappropriate to say no because you know them
- Having lots of Friends makes you look popular
- It's a way of indicating that you are a fan (of that person, band, product, etc.)
- Your list of Friends reveals who you are
- Their Profile is cool so being Friends makes you look cool
- Collecting Friends lets you see more people (Friendster)
- It's the only way to see a private Profile (MySpace)
- Being Friends lets you see someone's bulletins and their Friends-only blog posts (MySpace)
- You want them to see your bulletins, private Profile, private blog (MySpace)
- You can use your Friends list to find someone later
- It's easier to say yes than no
Collecting is advantageous for bands and companies and thus, they want to make it advantageous for participants to be fans; because there is little cost to do so, those who connect figure, "why not?" When Friends appear on someone's Profile, there is a great incentive to make sure that the Profiles listed help say something about the individual.
When a Friend request is sent, the recipient is given two options: accept or decline. This is usually listed under a list of pending connections that do not disappear until one of the two choices is selected. While most systems do not notify the sender of a recipient's decline, the sender can infer a negative response if the request does not result in their pages being linked. Additionally, many systems let the sender see which of their requests is still pending. Thus, they know whether or not the recipient acted upon it. This feature encourages recipients to leave an awkward relationship as pending but to complicate matters, most systems also display when a person last logged in on their Profile. Since it is generally known that the pending list is the first thing you see when you login, it is considered rude to login and not respond to a request. For all of these reasons, it's much easier to just say yes than to face questions about why the sender was ignored or declined.There is more fodder here for those who hold that MySpace is evil; the site, it seems, is designed to clutter social networks with "junk friends" (i.e., strangers and brand campaigns) and deliberately amplify social drama. Case in point: its "Top 8" feature, which allows users to say who is and isn't their bestest friend ever, and/or to whine about not being in someone's Top 8.
"As a kid, you used your birthday party guest list as leverage on the playground. 'If you let me play I'll invite you to my birthday party.' Then, as you grew up and got your own phone, it was all about someone being on your speed dial. Well today it's the MySpace Top 8. It's the new dangling carrot for gaining superficial acceptance. Taking someone off your Top 8 is your new passive aggressive power play when someone pisses you off."
When Emily removed Andy from her Top 8, he responded with a Comment  on her page, "im sad u took me off your Top 8." Likewise, even though Nigel was never on Ann's Top 8, he posted a Comment asking, "y cant i b on ur top 8?" These Comments are visible to anyone looking at Emily or Ann's page. By taking their hurt to the Comment section rather than privately messaging Ann and Emily, Nigel and Andy are letting a wider audience know that they feel "dissed."
"Myspace always seems to cause way too much drama and i am so dang sick of it. im sick of the pain and the hurt and tears and the jealousy and the heartache and the truth and the lies ... it just SUCKS! ... im just so sick of the drama and i just cant take it anymore compared to all the love its supposed to make us feel. i get off just feeling worse. i have people complain to me that they are not my number one on my top 8. come on now. grow up. its freaking myspace." -- OliviaSmall design decisions make a profound difference to how a social web site works. MySpace seems to be designed to maximise social pressures and exacerbate social anxiety and drama. This may be out of thoughtlessness (which wouldn't surprise me, given the generally inelegant design of the site), as part of some kind of Milgram/Zimbardo-esque psychological experiment (see also: Reality TV), or just an externality of maximising appeal to advertisers and youth marketers. LiveJournal, in contrast, goes out of its way to minimise drama; for example, its notification engine won't tell you if you've been unfriended.
Online humorist Lore Sjöberg has finally bowed to the sort-of-inevitable and joined MySpace, the obnoxiously spammy, rather rubbish social-network website which everyone is, for some reason, on; he documents the process here:
In signing up, I give my actual birth date, which is already a faux pas. I'm not clear on the details, but I understand that on MySpace, no matter your actual age, you generally say you're 14.
Step Three: Invite your friends to join MySpace. Seriously. I haven't even seen my own page yet, and already they're hassling me to shill for them. This is like going to a restaurant where the waiter brings you a glass of water and a basket of rolls, then hands you the phone and asks you to call your friends and tell them how great the food is. I pass.He posted a follow-up a week later here:
The immediate effect of my publishing a link to my MySpace page last week was that I started getting friend requests from people with names like "Senor Discount" and "Johnny One-Spur." It seems shallow to accept people I've never met as friends, but I like to think that anyone named "Senor Discount" is excellent friend material, online or off. Anyhow, after approving all my new friends and triggering about 400 server errors in the process, I now have 319 friends. That's what I love about the internet -- it allows you to have more friends than casual acquaintances.
Next step is to add a background image. There are pages on MySpace without background images, but all they have going for them is legibility. Take it from me, a massive picture of an anime demon kitty in high heels and an extremely skimpy nurse's outfit says more about you than a thousand readable blog entries could. I don't have a picture like that, though, so I put up a photo I took of a frozen pizza I once bought that was supposed to be half pepperoni combo and half cheese, but the cheese "half" took up a lot more space than the combo half. I think that says a lot about me, too.
I look upon my MySpace, and I see that it is good. Each part of it competes with the other for attention, creating an experience that blasts the senses, yet leaves the psyche unaffected. The many voices combine into a colorful but meaningless roar. A metaphor, perhaps, for MySpace as a whole, or the web, or perhaps all of human existence. I also had a shirt like that once.I've so far avoided having a personal MySpace page; primarily because it's much like all the other social-network sites (anyone remember Friendster? SixDegrees?), only more rubbish and obnoxious and full of parasitic marketers and carpetbaggers eager to waste your time. I spend enough time cleaning out the spam from my mail; I don't need to devote another 15 minutes a day to batting off friend requests from brand campaigns and random strangers with nothing better to do. However, I might set up a MySpace page for a music project or a night.
Some website runs a poll to find "the sexiest man in tech" (presumably meaning "the sexiest CEO or venture capitalist in tech"; the actual backroom geeks are not considered sexy). A staff member from SixApart subsidiary LiveJournal posts to a user-feedback forum, urging LiveJournal users to vote for SixApart CEO Ben Trott. Which makes me wonder whether, somewhere on MySpace, there is a similar post urging users to vote for James Murdoch.
After buying teen-angst-journal/band MP3 site MySpace, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation lost no time in censoring journals and user profiles to remove links to non-Murdoch-owned video sharing site YouTube:
"This is soooo like Fox and News Corp to try and secretly seal our mouths with duct tape," wrote "Alex" to Blog Herald.
The protests gathered pace, and when 600 MySpace customers complained and a campaign began to boycott the site and relocate to rival sites such as Friendster, Linkedin, revver.com and Facebook.com, News Corp relented and restored the links.
However, MySpace managers promptly shut down the blog forum on which members had complained about the interference. An online notice said the problem was the result of "a simple misunderstanding".Why anyone would choose MySpace as their journal site is beyond me; the site's social-software functionality is very primitive, and looks cheap, the interface being absolutely spammy with intrusive advertising. Though, sadly, it is said to be the industry-standard place for unsigned bands to post MP3s, especially with mp3.com having been killed off years ago.
Taking the hack even further, Samy realized that he could simply insert the entire script into the visiting user's profile, creating a replicating worm. "So if 5 people viewed my profile, that's 5 new friends. If 5 people viewed each of their profiles, that's 25 more new friends," Samy explained.For a brief time, Samy had more than one million new friends. Then MySpace noticed that something strange was happening, shut the site down and cleaned the script off users' pages. Google's Evan Martin has an analysis of the code.
News Corp. buys MySpace, which was the next Friendster/Orkut and/or where all the angsty emo teenagers moved to after LiveJournal became too full of grown-ups. Murdoch paid US$580m for it. No word on whether MySpace.com is going to start showing prominent flags, "We Support Our President" banners and/or ads for Ann Coulter books (or, in Britain, a "Chav And Proud" logo in Burberry check).
(More seriously, News Corporation is known for its fine-grained news-management deployed strategically to influence elections. Perhaps their acquisition of a social-network site, and building up an internet division, could be used to enhance this on an even finer level. Imagine, for example, if they have a system capable of predicting a user's political sympathies, based on their social contacts, web links, and/or keyword analysis of their comments/journal entries. Those with political opinions in line with News Corp. strategic goals could be served with ads and/or news content designed to stir them into activism, whereas those with opposing inclinations could be fed toned-down versions of news articles and ads for escapist entertainment designed to depoliticise them. The possibilities are endless.)
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