Sunday, July 31, 2011

What would you do with the internet's biggest albatross?

About a month ago Justin Timberlake and some other guys no one cares about announced that they'd jointly purchased Myspace for $35 million. I suppose they thought this is a steal compared to Myspace's former value of one $65 billion just a few years ago. The rest of the world, however, responded by collectively mocking Justin's bad investment decision for ten minutes, throwing in another gratuitous whine about his refusal to make any more music for another two minutes, and then returning to forgetting that Myspace even existed. For some reason however, this has been stuck in the back of my brain ever since the announcement.

Is Myspace completely past the point of resuscitation? I don't think it is, but before I go any further I will say upfront that I also don't have a huge amount of confidence that Justin or these Specific Media guys are going to do it. Just so you know, Specific Media are an internet advertising company. They rent out banner ad space on websites and charge a fee for targeted ads. This is a respectable vocation that belies the somewhat scammy vagueness of both their name and the "about" section on their website, but I have a feeling the task of selling banner ad space is a long way removed from trying to run a social media site, especially one that needs a makeover.

On Justin's part of the deal, he is actually only a minority investor in this, a fact often glossed over or not mentioned in articles about his involvement. What he brings to the table is his name, in the hopes that more people might be attracted to the site again if a high-profile celebrity's name is attached. Unfortunately that kind of attraction only works best for A list celebrities. It does not work for those who completely shun their once-A status in one realm because they insist on being B- list celebs in something else. Maybe he plans to finally release another album and only promote it mainly via Myspace? That would certainly be interesting to observe, but I doubt this is part of the plan.

I do think they have the right idea in tailoring Myspace to music. No one is going to go back to Myspace just to keep up with friends or network with people. We have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google+ for that, and Microsoft supposedly has something called Socl in the pipeline. That's too much competition, so it is wise to pick a niche that none of these sites is specifically catering (music) and exploit it. But now, how do they go about doing that?

The biggest hurdle Myspace has to jump is that, well, it's Myspace. The name just brings bad vibes and makes people either cringe, laugh, or cringe with a little laugh. Plus, if this is really going to be a site where one goes to find new music then why should it be called "my"space? It is no longer going to be about it being anyone's own little corner of the internet. It's no longer going to be about "me" and my ten most favorite sparkly text .gifs or my answers to whatever question meme is floating around that day. I feel that a rebranding is necessary to get people interested again, and the fastest way to rebrand something is to simply rename it. This is why they shouldn't have been so quick to attach Justin's name to it; no one would have blinked twice, let alone written an article, at some generically-named company buying the site. This would have made it all the easier to completely overhaul it without scrutiny, and after it was finished, they could have made a big announcement about the launch while touting Justin as the face of the company.

Then there is the actual overhaul that has to take place. Myspace's general layout and the way one has to navigate the site are both extremely unappealing. On Myspace, if you want to say something to your friends, you have to go to each individual friend's page to do so, and once you've left your own page there is no easy to move among pages, except to go back to your own friends list and find the icon of the next person whose page you want to see. The bulletin option was there if you had a general announcement you want to make to everyone, but in my experience the bulletin section became more like a junk mail folder. Everyone who had a chain e-letter, quiz, or meme to share sent it out via bulletin. If you're a band and you want to send out bulletin announcements as promotion, you might easily get lost amid all the junk.

I would turn Myspace into a sort of website-and-forum-board host for musicians. Artists will all have their own page where they post updates, new audio/video, and pictures, a blog sub-page, and a sub-page where the artist/ or fans can start various topics to discuss with each other (I'm thinking something akin to the "discussion" section that fan pages on FB have). There probably need to be restrictions for the sake of bandwidth and just not being so annoying - for example, no auto-playing songs allowed, ever, or no more than two embedded images at a time on one page - and they also need to get rid of the current 'box' format, which looks amateurish and cluttered and well, just downright ugly. I'm not a webmaster expert but I'd think ten or so aesthetically pleasing customizable templates shouldn't be hard to create. Also, it's each artist's responsibility to monitor his/her/their forum sub-page. (I would suggest that Myspace itself can have a general forum section of its own for music discussion, but heavy moderation will definitely be needed as that's something I could easily see getting out of control. I'm not sure if this is a task most would be up to.)

Bulletins would be reserved for artists to send out updates to people who 'follow' or subscribe to them, and Myspace itself for general announcements.

Fans would not have page urls of their own (and frankly, do not need them in this scenario). They should have a permanent sidebar where they can 'bookmark' all of their favorite acts' pages and navigate between them with ease. They can have avatars and signatures (within a certain size limit). I could give this more thought, but other than the sidebar this is really not much different from the kind of account one has at any forum board. In this scenario there is no need for friending or top 8's or circles. Fans simply chooses which artists they want to follow, which puts them on the artists' bulletin lists and adds those artists' pages to the sidebar.

I have clearly given this entirely too much thought, considering that Specific Media and Justin probably aren't going to do any of those things and whatever they do, they'll probably end up generating a profit even if they fail. If only I had $35 million...oh who am I kidding, I wouldn't have had the foresight to buy Myspace. I would have run off to the Caribbean to run a fruit stand and lived happily ever after.

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