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Quora: How did MySpace, with a smart team of people, do such a bad UI/UX job with the new design?

I wrote this on Quora a while back, but forgot to cross-pollinate it on my blog, so apologies if you’re seeing this twice. As those who have been following this blog know, I had a great deal of respect for MySpace back in the early days and worked with the initial team back when the site was just a few million members- I’ve written about it here and here.

Anyway, here’s the question…

How did MySpace, with a smart team of people, do such a bad UI/UX job with the new design?

The answer’s simple:
In the new redesign, MySpace prioritized short-term monetization ahead of user experience due to its failing business fundamentals.

First off- let me state that I think the new MySpace is actually better than the old one. However the new MySpace is still not good enough, obviously, to turn around the product.

I recently spoke to an interaction designer who worked on the new MySpace, who told me an anecdote that blew my mind:

When the team was working on the new feed at the heart of MySpace, the interaction designers wanted to make bigger images so that it’d be easy to see what users’ friends were doing. Similarly, they wanted to make the feed more easily scannable and have more content per page on the feed. Basically, to turn the feed into a modern implementation the way Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and many others have set up.

However, they were aware that if they did this, then users would be less likely to click through to the images and thus would decrease pageviews. Given MySpace’s declining revenues, the interaction designers there were asked to actively design with the goal of more pageviews. So they added smaller images than they thought optimal, and fewer images per page than they thought optimal, just so that they could generate more pageviews. Basically they were now designing a worse newsfeed to generate short-term revenue.

As I understand, this happened systematically within the product which led to many compromises in the user experience, and the business needs won every time.

When the folks who ought to be the strongest user advocates at the company design for the business goals as a priority, you do not end up with an inspired product experience.

You have to prioritize having a great product experience to end up with a great product experience- it doesn’t happen by accident.

Anyway, the site is still huge and influential in many ways, so let’s hope the team there figures it out and there’s a resurgence in the future.

[ed: I also wanted to add the following answer from Sizhao Zao Yang, co-founder of myminilife, which created Farmville and then was acquired by Zynga]

Sizhao’s additional commentary on this question:

In addition to Andrew Chen‘s comment, I want to emphasize MySpace’s short term perspective seeped into product/engineering such that management actually believed that MySpace was special because people liked to generate pageviews.

MySpace invited a number of the application developers to MySpace last year including Zynga, and I was the Zynga representative. During the sessions, they asked for specific suggestions on product. I told them to make it feed based: increase the size of the pictures, have more descriptions on the activity, etc. Have different ways to surface social content with counters/toasters, and make social feedback very easy with one click functionality. Multiple general managers and product people at MySpace told me that MySpace people just like to click more. I told them that they were on “the wrong side of history.” Little did I know that this session was broadcast to all of MySpace. So, overall, my comments to the management/product ppl/everyone didn’t resonate at all, and most of it was never incorporated in the MySpace 2.0 launch. They said my comments were “interesting, but we’ll see,” with an underlying mood/attitude that I was wrong about the pageviews generating MySpace crowd.

I remember also that when FB was on the rise, MySpace execs would publicly say they were: cooler, more about self expression, celebrities, and that the newsfeed/app platform didn’t matter (in the early days) because it was too geeky. They didn’t know what was going on and positioned MySpace as brand and used lifestyle marketing to promote MySpace. Ultimately, you can probably blame the non- product focused culture, or you can blame the completely wrong judgment/perspective. They just didn’t get it. In b-school/MBA talk, these were strategic/product mistakes and a focus on the wrong metrics.

Unfortunately, when a company is in a downward spiral and think they are differentiating by encouraging pageviews, there’s not a lot you can do to help them. At the end of the day, you sometimes either get it or you don’t, unfortunately, MySpace went viral but didn’t understand social, which is about retention, not customer acquisition, and FB completely out executed/maneuvered them.

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