MySpace mess

It’s abundantly clear that MySpace suffered greatly due to a cluttered, confusing interface. This article, How Facebook Learned from MySpace, merely underscores that fact.

One interesting point that this CNN Money article brings up is that MySpace, as a social media pioneer, didn’t know what people wanted in a social media platform.

… MySpace, like everyone else in 2004, wasn’t sure what would make a social network click. So it let its members figure it out, offering them to design their own pages with widgets, songs, videos, and whatever design they pleased. The result was a wasteland of cluttered and annoying pages that were as garish as the self-designed home pages on MySpace’s 1.0 predecessor, Geocities.

Facebook, on the other hand, adopted a stripped down interface that in many ways mirrored the ways people already ware using the Internet to communicate. There may be parallels here in another Internet success story: Wikipedia. This post, re-posted here from the Collaboration in Networked Environments blog, refers to a lecture by Harvard Berkman Center fellow Benjamin Mako Hill on why Wikipedia succeeded where other attempts to create online encyclopedias failed. What it all boils down to is that sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. A familiar, easy-to-use interface can help people swim in the data stream, as Oosterhuis puts it. People took to Facebook like water.


Why Wikipedia won

This post originally appeared on the Fall 2011 Collaboration in Networked Environments blog.

Tim Neff wrote:

Just thought I’d post a link to this article from Nieman Journalism Lab: “Why Did Wikipedia Succeed While Other Encyclopedias Failed?”

I didn’t realize there were so many earlier attempts to create a collaborative online encyclopedia. This article, based on a lecture by Benjamin Mako Hill, a Harvard Berkman Center fellow, points out several reasons why Wikipedia worked:

1. Wikipedia clung closely to the familiar concept of an encyclopedia, while other online efforts tried to re-define what an encyclopedia could be. “It felt familiar.”
2. Wikipedia focused on content, rather than technology. Again, it didn’t try to implement some radical new tool.
3. Wikipedia has “low transaction costs” … it’s easy to contribute.
4. Wikipedia makes it difficult to tell who contributed. This again lowers the barrier to collaborate by making people feel comfortable jumping in and contributing, even in minor ways.

So, might a good rule of thumb for designing online collaboration environments be “Keep it simple and familiar”?

I think this is interesting in light of the Oosterhuis reading from earlier that emphasized the need to learn how to swim in the data stream, which seems like a daunting task. It’s comforting to know that you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes simple, familiar designs can enhance that ability to intuitively interface with data.

Why did MySpace fail? Ask Quora

This roundtable discussion on Quora reflects many of the points brought up in our MySpace History and Introduction post.

First, it is difficult to overstate just how difficult people found customizing their profile pages in MySpace. The platform was founded on the idea that people wanted to mainly create spaces for themselves, thus the site’s name. In retrospect, this emphasis on “me” seems rather curious. Social networks are all about connections between people. As mentioned in the post, “The Architectures of Participation,” networks emerge out of these connections. It also seems that networks cannot be self-sustaining unless these connections are put first and foremost in a social network’s vision.

Second, MySpace was painfully overloaded with advertising. This reflected corporate priorities. Boyd’s “Incantations for Muggles” points out that as companies seek to expand and grow profits, they often lose the passion of their users. Perhaps MySpace needed to focus on building passion among its users before it sought to build profits.

Third, one participant in this roundtable points out that MySpace did a poor job of “shipping product,” meaning the novelty quickly wore off and was not replaced or fed by new experiences, such as games and other features. Facebook does an excellent job of shipping product, keeping the experience fresh. Doruff’s ‘Translocal Event’ underscores the important role of play in social, collaborative networks.

Doruff: ‘The Translocal Event and the Polyryhthmic Diagram’

Sher Doruff’s “The Translocal Event” emphasizes the role of play/interplay as an attractor of collective action. A core question here: If the code (such as the code that a network is based upon) is fixed, how can something as spontaneous and rule-bending as play emerge? A solution space in computer-mediated play may simply point to open architectures in distributed compositional applications.
One takeaway here is that social networks are most effective when they encourage play, such as “Mafia Wars” and “Farmville” (distributed compositional applications) on Facebook. Or merely being able to “poke” someone. Does Google+ have this? Does it need this?

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

Boyd: ‘Incantations for Muggles’

Danah Boyd’s “Incantations for Muggles” underscore how Web 2.0 technologies mesh with and enrich everyday life. This piece emphasizes that technologies fit into pre-existing practices.
Boy outlines four key life stages that have direct relevance for the exploration of social network successes and failures.

Stage 1: Identity formation and role-seeking (youth)
This is the stage of youth, where we try to make sense of who we are in relation to others. We try to reflect aspects of conflicting social cues back on others. This echoes Goffman’s theories about the presentation of self, as cited in a previous post. Youth are a separate subculture, and this period lasts a lot longer today than it used to.

Stage 2: Integration and coupling (20s)
This life stage, typically the 20s, is when people seek meaningful labor and campanionship. Unfortunately, the jobs aren’t there today, so this is an increasingly vague period.

Stage 3: Societal contribution
This is where the “Donna Reed” meets “Father Knows Best” model still applies. The white picket fence myth is still remarkably ubiquitous. It is the dream that many are working toward.

Stage 4: Reflection and storytelling
“In theory, people retire and their children grow up.”

The key takeaway here is that people value different things at different life stages, and they use technologies for different purposes that suit these values:

How would you design for these different groups? Unfortunately, for the most part, they’re considered one big lump of “generic user.” Many of the technologies that they’re using are the same, but how they’re using them differs.

You can see this through “social network sites” and “blogging tools.” Youth go to MySpace and Facebook primarily to hang out with friends. 20somethings go to get laid. Both groups use the sites to keep up with what’s going on in their social world – where the parties are, what gossip is key, etc. White collar workers go to LinkedIn for career purposes. Unfortunately, there’s no really good social network site there to meet the needs of the older contingent. (This should make the VC ears perk up – when are we going to start designing for the retirees? And why do i have a funny feeling that this isn’t going to happen until the Baby Boomers start bitching?)

Keep in mind, this was written in 2007, just before Facebook burst onto the scene.

From an economic standpoint, niche customers often are not the most profitable. Public companies are required to grow, not just maintain profitability. They must go for the masses. Facebook’s opening up to the masses beyond college was resisted by early users. The market values growth, but the cost of growth is a loss of user passion. Big tech uses “lock-in” strategies, such as cellphone contracts, to force users to stick around when their passion fades. These corporate practices affect how systems are designed, deployed, allowed to evolve.

This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.

The Visual Evolution of the Myspace Design

When Myspace launched in 2003, the social network was geared towards connecting people within a designated social community; however, after the site’s surrender to the powerful Facebook, Myspace endured several rebranding campaigns that literally changed the “face” of the media resource. While the internal purpose and character of Myspace was subjected to a complete makeover—due to its inability to maintain market success—so did the site’s external appearance, in hopes of targeting a totally new demographic. In 2008, Myspace changed the essential look of its homepage, incorporating major focus on the “social entertainment” brand. With a new logo as well as an integrated promotional structure, despite its toughest efforts to drive engagement through the redesign process, Myspace’s desperate attempt to generate user awareness has seemingly continued falter throughout the years. Not even a cosmetic boost could improve upon the bruised platform.

Even though the Myspace redesign strived to garner interest on a different level than before, the website ignored its root problem: basic functionality. In the following years, Myspace would undergo even more design changes (in 2010 and 2011 especially), all in an effort to induce entertainment value. The transformation into an entertainment-driven commodity features a heavily sponsored layout that aims to grab the attention of music fans and promoters. The latest visual elements include an updated logo, ability to share media, organized stream of activity (movies, TV, music, celebrities, etc.), boxed layout, black and white color scheme, toolbar with necessary alerts, subscription options, easier site navigation, badges, and of course: graphic customization for personal profiles. It just wouldn’t be Myspace without the old-school coding device.

Although the Myspace appearance modernized itself to adhere to the Generation Y age group, the mere social entertainment community might have discovered its “niche” a bit too late. With Facebook and Twitter leading the social media pack, Myspace’s fresh look is rather reminiscent of the current Facebook format. With notifications, followers, and newsfeeds (sound familiar?), Myspace still has yet to separate itself from the main competition—even if the site does not recognize other social media networks as actual competition, since it no longer considers itself a social media destination. Therefore, it begs the question: if Myspace both looks and offers the same available media as its “competitors,” then why would a user choose the fading product over any of the other massively successful social media platforms?

This video shed light on Myspace’s newest visual content and the general purpose of the massive redesign:

Scholz: ‘The Participatory Challenge’

In “The Participatory Challenge,” Trebor Scholz explores the nature of “Extreme Sharing Networks,” or ESNs. These are self-organized and autonomous networks that support the development of sustainable relationships that empower us to lead fulfilled and engaged lives. They allow people to meet freely in the commons, to mobilize and share talents, context and resources.
Most importantly, ESN need to be meaningful in order to attract contributors. This encourages the creation of informal and formal relationships among individuals within the network.
Such social networks need to allow for co-ownership, because an insistence on exclusive ownership “kills the motivation of co-participants.”
This reading underscores the importance of transparency and sharing in the commons. In the “Friendster History and Introduction” post, we learned that Friendster put its focus on an individual’s profile, which may have proven too isolating. Facebook may have exploded in popularity at least in part because it offered a more open and connected experience.
This blog includes a series of posts that stem from readings and other source materials in the Fall 2011 “Collaboration in Networked Environments” at The New School. For more Collaboration: Key Concepts posts, click here.