Wither MySpace


When media blogger Simon Owens of Bloggasm.com wrote a post titled ‘January 30th is International Delete Your MySpace Account Day’ just ten days ago, he couldn’t have predicted the entry would garner the sort of attention it did. But such are the forces of the web, and his little rant quickly spread like a rash through the blogosphere and mainstream media.

The post is funny, biting and for the most part a fairly accurate portrayal of the problems encountered while using the most visited social networking site in the world. (At last count MySpace sat at sixth place on online information company Alexa’s most popular sites, followed by Facebook and Hi5.) Owens lists ten reasons why one should leave the world of MySpace, including "You rarely log in to MySpace except to delete spam friend requests from nude webcam girls," and "You visit someone’s profile only to have your eyes bleed because of terrible page layout with non-matching designs and font colours."

This isn’t the first time MySpace has attracted criticism. In 2006, PC World gave MySpace the dubious honour of top place on their list of the 25 Worst Web Sites, while other blogs like Who Sucks had already listed their own ‘16 reasons why MySpace sucks.’ Like Owens, they complained about the site’s ongoing problems with spam, server speed, security, intrusive advertising and aesthetics (namely that customisable profile pages have led to horrendous looking things like this.) Both also point out MySpace’s well publicised problems with child predators.

Image thanks to Lukas.

The difference with Owens’s entry is that he choose a date to quit and called upon the rest of the web world to likewise shove off the MySpace island and thereby send a clear message to the bosses that their product bites.

Within two days there was a Facebook event dedicated to the cause and other blogs were reposting his list of complaints and showing their support. Another two days later and the post had elicited a comment from Rebekah Horne, vice president of Fox Interactive Media and MySpace in Australia and New Zealand – albeit one of nonchalance, "This Delete-Your-MySpace day is just about being controversial. MySpace is still the biggest social networking site in the world." Social networking news site Mashable was surprised by the sort of response they had when they covered the post, saying the story had "grown to what can only be described as Spartacan proportions".

But is it so surprising that people are passionate about their social networking sites? After all, most users will confess to checking and using the site at least daily, if not several times a day, as another way to connect to those they love (or met once or twice). It’s little wonder we want a tool we rely on so heavily to be well designed.

Owens, a 23-year-old newspaper journalist from Virginia, has been on MySpace for less than a year, and on Facebook since late 2005. And along with the other 1,431 Facebook users who have confirmed their attendance of the International Delete Your MySpace Account Day, he’ll tell you that when it comes to the race for the ultimate social networking site, Facebook has claimed the crown fair and square.

For Owens it comes down to problem-solving, and the makers of Facebook have done a remarkably better job of it.

"I never get spammed with fake friend requests from Facebook, which means that Facebook is somehow battling the problem better than MySpace," Owens told newmatilda.com. "The problem with social networks is that too many people look at them with dollar signs in their eyes, realising that if they can somehow tap into that network they can market a product, whether it’s nude webcams or advertising the new Spiderman movie.

"It’s not always a bad thing. I’m not against advertising, I’m just against intrusive advertising, and for the most part Facebook has battled that, though I’ve been getting annoyed with their applications. I’m getting tired of getting tons of invites for super pokes and zombies and vampires and other things that cloud the network. In some ways this is becoming a new form of spam, although one that’s very easy to create filters for."

But how long will it be before we see an International Delete Your Facebook Account Day? (Which, by the way, isn’t easy to do.) Earlier this month, Tom Hodgkinson wrote a searing piece in The Guardian questioning the motives of the site’s founders, as well as what he sees as an Orwellian privacy policy.

There are already several "Facebook suicide" groups, begun by users to help wean one another off their Facebook addiction. Former users complain that the site led to an invasion of privacy, was a poor substitute for more personal forms of communication and turned them into stalkers slash exhibitionists.

However, for the most part Facebook’s growth continues at an incredible rate of two million new users per week. Meanwhile MySpace battles a growing backlash of which International Delete Your MySpace Account Day is likely to be just the beginning.

It’ll be interesting to see if Owens’s protest makes any discernible dent in MySpace’s membership numbers. In this story, Mashable points out that in order to have any effect on the site one requires the use of a petition tool like The Point.

But the truth is, although serious about MySpace’s misgivings, Owens did write the post on a whim. (To critics who claim he comes off as "whiny" he replies: "So what? It’s the freaking blogosphere and it took me all of five minutes to write the post. It’s my blog and I can cry if I want to.") And other bloggers like 25-year-old Levi Figueira of LeviFig.net who helped fan the flames of the cause with this post , or 27-year-old Tom Krieglstein, who began the supporting Facebook group, seem to approach it with an attitude of humour, using the day as an opportunity to express their grievances with MySpace, rather than any hard intent to bring MySpace to its knees.

And for Owens, whether we’re talking Facebook, Hi5, Bebo or the myriad of other specialist social networking sites that are popping up, he admits the fad is here to stay. "It isn’t anywhere near to slowing down and it is a really innovative way to keep connected to people you wouldn’t otherwise take the time to talk to more than once a year. It’s kind of cool being able to watch what happens to friends who live far away on a daily basis."

(And for the record, yes I am on both Facebook and MySpace, albeit after periods of going AWOL. But in both cases I’ve deactivated the "wall" and am quite careful with the information I post about myself.)

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.