New MySpace. Twelve months ago I would have snorted in derision at the mere mention of the idea; it seemed a little too ridiculous given the way Old MySpace had gone.
Over time though, with Facebook increasingly battling negative press around Pages, reach, privacy and a host of other problems, MySpace’s purchase and promised rejuvenation courtesy of Justin Timberlake and Specific Media actually started looking viable. Through the same period, a few friends of mine had been asking the same question: “Are we due a dedicated music social network?”. After all, Facebook has never been that well equipped for musicians (ever tried listening to music on an artists page of late?) and coupled with the aforementioned frustrations, it felt like a gap was opening that was ripe for the taking.
Enter MySpace. (Again.)
I was invited to preview the service in the summer. I have to say, based on the demo video I saw (the same one that has since been made public in the first round of PR), I was really impressed. New MySpace looked fantastic. There was a clear focus on design there, and conceptually it felt very much like it could indeed be the dedicated music social network that people had been pining for. Believe me, I was a naysayer previous to this meeting, but based on the video and my conversations with the team there, I was sold.
Having played around with the service for a while now, sadly now I’m not so sure.
If anything, New MySpace has proven that there’s a huge difference between great aesthetic design and great user experience. Something can look incredible and still be horrid to use: the two aren’t bound to one another. New MySpace bears this out, I’m afraid to say.
There’s a raft of complaints I could make about New MySpace. However the two main issues for me are these: firstly, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing there. Secondly – and possibly as a consequence – I just don’t feel any pull to visit the site and engage.
The grand irony of New MySpace to me is that it represents a classic grass-is-greener situation. For ages, me and my peers talked about a dedicated music social network. Now one has arrived and… well, it just doesn’t feel right. At least not the way MySpace is presenting it. The selection of music is limiting, and once again the walled-garden of music’s rights clearances rises to bite the service in the backside. In short, there’s not enough on there. Searching for any number of your favourite tracks leaves you disappointed. But wait, I can embed them from someplace else, like on Facebook, right? Well, no… If its not on MySpace, it doesn’t exist. At least not in the context of your social network and represented musical profile. So right off the bat, my actual musical persona is being clipped to match what they can represent me through.
Beyond that (rather huge) stumbling block, I found myself wondering what I was actually meant to be doing. I have the option to “connect” to, well, anything it would seem. Connecting to friends appears to be the same as friending someone on Facebook; you then see their posts and activity etc. However I can also “connect” to albums, artists, songs… you name it. Where does it end? What does connecting actually represent? Call me a cynic but it felt more like a means to profile my tastes even more exactly than on Facebook. “Darren likes the following songs by Neil Young…” etc. Awesome for the advertisers, but what do I get from connecting? It isn’t clear, and hence I see no reason to do it.
Ultimately, MySpace feels like one of those situations where simplicity was eschewed in favour of undertaking The Big Grand Design. But the problem is that this comes at the cost of a clean user experience and the much needed stickiness that keeps you returning and using the service. Of course, its early days and we’d be foolish to dismiss it outright… but as things stand, there’s just no “pull” factor; no reason to get back there and see what others have posted, nor any reason to go there and post yourself.
I sincerely hope it will improve and come to represent a challenge if not a replacement to Facebook. We need that. However it may be that New MySpace’s lasting legacy will be that it forced Facebook to improve how artists are represented on their service, or that it prompted someone like Google or Spotify to finally connect those missing dots in bringing music and social together in a meaningful, attractive manner. And, whilst that would be a failure for Timberlake and Specific Media, I have to be honest: if that did happen, I’d consider it no bad thing at all…