Somebody recently referred to MySpace as “Outlook for teenagers”. Wow, what an interesting way to visualize the paradigm shift.
I had trouble grasping why it was that kids were referring to their MySpace experience using phrases that imply addiction, but this expression broke down that mental block for me. We can all relate to moments when you’re pounding the “Check Mail” button in your email app.
Of course, you can’t reduce MySpace to such a simple generalization without missing some other key trends that serve it well.
There’s something fascinating about watching people react to what you post online. I do the same thing after I post something in my blog that I hope people read. I start checking technorati and watching my referrer logs more closely. People who add Wikipedia entries closely monitor the evolution of those pages as others contribute to it. People who post questions on Answers keep checking their question to see who has responded.
I would bet that people are often more interested in who responds than what the reponse is.
Feedback is validation, and there’s no age group that cares more about validation than teenagers. It can be a paralyzing experience for the less confident, but the Internet creates a nice layer of distance and control that provides a more comfortable home and even a canvas for anyone who can express himself or herself.
Mike Butcher drew an interesting picture of the portal landscape in his Netimperitive column, “Goodbye and good luck”. He asked how Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft were going to address the need for people to control their online identities:
“In this new world where there is no true ‘one-stop-shop’ for everything; where people subscribe to feeds from a myriad of places; where sites themselves are turning into mashups of other sites and none of us goes to one place any more (OK, so we never did, but this is now a fundamental and unbreakable trend); what do portals DO?…
The fight will now become one of identity as portals which used to control your ID because you were literally ‘walled in’ now try to win you over with identity tools locked into their ecosystem.”
MySpace caught the big guys asleep at the wheel, though they run the same risk of controlling identity against people’s wills.
Another reason MySpace works is because no other service before it was enabling teenagers to build a fully customizable identity and to use that identity to interact with other teenagers. There are lots of platforms for socializing online, but none prior to MySpace gave kids the ability to build an evolving reflection of themselves. Avatars are neat, but there’s so much more to expressing teenage drama than altering your shirt.
As Jeremy Zawodny noted, the theoretical WebOS concept already exists. It’s on MySpace where you can install apps from other online services in the form of badges, buttons and visual doodads that spice up your site:
Take a minute and think about the language that Daniel used there. It the exact same sort of complaint you might have heard 5 or 10 years ago about a desktop application. ‘Is CoolNewGame compatible with my Mac?'”
I thought the blogging craze would have enabled this world for teenagers, and from what I know about LiveJournal, this is exactly what was happening. But a handful of common user interface elements and an email platform pulled all the right pieces together to create the MySpace explosion in a way that blogging just wasn’t serving.
The opportunity to disintermediate MySpace certainly exists if someone can figure out how to couple the independence of a domain owned and controlled by a user along with the communication platform that unifies the way people can give feedback and validation to eachother that’s integrated into the experience.
Comments and trackbacks aren’t enough, obviously. And too much control will confuse the masses.
It’s a fine balance that MySpace nailed, but it’s also a precarious position. I imagine we’ll see MySpace cementing their market share by locking down their brand value before competitors figure out how to lure away their users with better offerings. They obviously need to initiate that effort with some better PR.