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Do you ever say, “MySpace is sooo ugly?” This blog’s for you…

Look at the stats lately?
I love reading articles like this one and this one because it’s fun to see tech people try to understand why MySpace could thrive while being so "ugly." Similarly, in the the big Facebook lovefest over the last few months, I’ve had many conversations where people are shocked to hear how far MySpace is still far ahead on stats. For example:

The reason why these numbers surprise people is simple: Silicon Valley people aren’t MySpace users. I’ve come to believe that Silicon Valley has a deeply emotional dislike of MySpace, which has nothing to do with the numbers. We (the Silicon Valley "we") don’t understand the aesthetics or the use cases around MySpace, which is likely driven by demographics, education level, etc.

Aesthetics and "Googley"-ness
In particular, I’m amused by folks I talk to that insist on every product being "Googley." What I mean by that is:

  • Simple
  • Functional
  • Easy

Sounds good, right?

Well, it’s great when you are trying to solve a problem, but what if you are trying to waste time? How do you make a time-wasting experience, in which the process (wasting time) directly translates to the outcome (time wasted)? In that case, you might prefer:

  • Lots of options – perceived as complicated
  • Entertaining – perceived as lacking a point
  • Layers of complexity – perceived as difficult

A couple example of this is to compare a process like checking into a hotel, which is directed and should be simple and easy, versus the design of a mall. In the hotel check-in, you want a polished and fast experience – get me from point A to point B. In a mall, you want to give people a lot of options, like eating or shopping or sitting around talking or whatever. In fact, to make a mall googley is exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

That’s partly why social networks tend to be a mishmash of a bunch of random, vaguely related features, rather than a clean flow that gets you from point A to point B.

Should social networks be social utilities?
Let’s go back to the aesthetics of MySpace, which is what everyone complains about. Instead of all the blinged-out profiles, which are basically Geocities 2.0, should social networks look like the "social utility" that Facebook bills itself out as? It absolutely looks cleaner and is more googley. In fact, a subtle distinction is that the profiles on Facebook are much more viewer-friendly, versus creator-friendly, whereas MySpace is arguably the opposite.

Interestingly enough, now with all the Facebook apps, you see people pimping out their profiles as much as they can – and I bet you that a very common tech support request at Facebook is "how can i change the color of my background?"

So going back to the aesthetics, I’ve always enjoyed making offline analogies to online behaviors since technology changes but people stay the same.

To me, MySpace looks like something very familiar – do you know what these are?

Scrapbooking and decoration as consumer behavior
If you’re not familiar, this is called scrapbooking and it’s basically photo albums++:

… and finally, yes, people really do spend upwards of 40-60 hours per scrapbook making them look like that. It’s like offline Geocities… er, MySpace.

The demographic for this skews heavily female, but spans both teenagers to older, and is definitely has a lot of people in Middle America doing it. There are some religious linkages in there as well.

The MySpace and scrapbook aesthetic is very distinctive, and could be summarized as:

  • Mixed media (video/music/pictures/text for MySpace)
  • Disjointed look and feel from page-to-page or section-to-section
  • Flowery decorations including non-ironic use of cheesy imagery
  • Very people-centric (not information centric)
  • etc.

I don’t know about you, but this is not really how I use these sites. I tend to use these sites more as communication "tools" and crave functionality. And if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably like me. But the rest of the world is not like us, and that’s the problem.

As I’ve done research talking to dozens of MySpace users and people who
do artistic crafts like the above, I’ve come to the understanding that
this is what users want to do. This is how they want their profiles to look.
And it shocks me that for all the "openness"-loving, democratic culture
that the Bay Area has, there’s clearly a lot of snobbery when it comes
down to design and aesthetics.

I’m interested to see how people in the Bay Area think about MySpace over time. In the near-term, I’m going to try to immerse myself in all the things that are popular but derided here, such as:

  • UFC
  • Celeb gossip
  • Forums like Something Awful + GenMay
  • Counterstrike
  • Dr. Phil books
  • Oprah books
  • Any personal self-help book
  • Trashy romance novels
  • etc.


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