Let’s Try That Again

This year a Brisbane based design studio, along with Justin Timberlake and a couple of dot com entrepreneurs, will attempt the impossible- make MySpace cool again.

Spend anytime on the new MySpace and you can’t help but notice that some pretty radical design choices have been made. For instance, the profile images are huge- like 90% of the screen huge- and the text in the search bar, which appears on the screen like an Ariel scream, is in what must be one of the internet’s largest ever font. The most striking choice though, is that the feed from the people you have connected to (users on the new Myspace don’t have ‘friends’ but ‘connections’) extend from left to right in boxes, rather than using the top-to-bottom-in-lines convention which is adhered to for almost every other site and, you know, anything that’s read.
What it looks like is a particularly trendy quarterly design book. What it doesn’t look like, is MySpace.
New Ltd sold MySpace in 2011 to a company called Specific Media, an online advertising site run by brothers Chris and Tim Vanderhook, and cross-media darling Justin Timberlake. When they decided there was little value using the exising site, they got in contact with four established US based design agencies and Joesphmark for their thoughts on what they’d do with acquisition.
The staff at Joesphmark, a boutique and relatively new Australia company came into consideration because of their work on their very trendy, but not that well known music aggregator WeAreHunted.
The company hadn’t even known that the site had changed hands, but when they did their research (and looked at consumer sentiment), they figured they should do what they recommend the new Myspace do, try for a gamble that would be a wild success or a complete bust.
“MySpace had to do something pretty radical. In the history of large digital sites, when they’ve turned and started a downward spiral, there hasn’t been one that’s been able to make a recovery,” says Johnson. 
“We just thought, ‘let’s just own this,’” says Ben Johnson, 29, director of Brisbane design studio Joesphmark, the company behind the new design. “We thought ‘If we just bought MySpace, what would we do? Well, we’d feel that we’d have to be pretty bold.’”

In 2005 or 2006, you probably used MySpace, adding photographs and writing pithy blogs about Suri Cuise or James Blake. You most likely had a ‘Top 8 Friends’ and a theme song (the curation of which had you spending much time agonizing over). Then, one day, you were introduced to Facebook.
Initially, you weren’t interested in joining a new social media site, but as you got more friend requests over on the FB, and the limited functionality and predatory advertising of MySpace became more annoying by comparison, you used Facebook more and MySpace less. Sometime in 2008, you had your last interaction with the site. 
It was your experience; it was everybody’s experience.
So swift and comprehensive was the exodus from MySpace, it was as though the site had been seized by the Khmer Rouge.
“We screwed up in every way possible,” New Ltd CEO Rupert Murdoch said on Twitter of his company’s efforts to manage the site.
In 2010 MySpace tried to relaunch the site as an entertainment hub, but not only did they fail to bring in new traffic, the remaining users fled and in 2011, the site was an embarrassment to New Ltd, not to mention a profit drain, and the decision was made to sell the site that they bought for $580 million and, at one point, had been built up to an estimated value between $25 billion and $65 billion.
Initially News Ltd looked for a minimum sale of $100 million, but eventually they agreed to sell for $35 million, a price Slate magazine said at the time was, “either laughably high or embarrassingly low.”
“Embarrassingly low” because of the assets the business still had, including a relatively large user base and a music library of more than 20 million songs, and “laughably high,” because, as Ben Johnson already remarked, the weight of history was going to be against the new purchaser.
“We recognize that we can’t simply market our way out of it, we literally have to go out and earn the respect of a skeptical community,” says Tim Vanderhook.

 

Josephmark’s pitch included a lot of elements that already existed at WeAreHunted, including an ever-present music player on the bottom of the site and a left-to-right scroll. Specific Media loved Joesphmark’s pitch, as it had a strong musical focus, but also because it was built for content creators and that it looked so different to any other sites.
“They said they wanted a site that looked like what sites will look like in three of four years time,” says Johnson.
The new MySpace had a gradual ‘invite-only’ soft launch throughout the last quarter of 2012, before going completely public on mid-January, with the first non-invite users being greeted with a new Justin Timberlake single- his first in many years. 
The new site has an attractive design and robust music player, but few places for text, links or embeds, instead taking a strong visual focus. If you were describing the site in terms of existing social media sites, it’d be best described as a mix of Pintrest, Spotify, with just a twist of MySpace added for garnish.
“There was a quote from JT that was “If you look at Facebook as your diary and your Twitter as what’s happening right now, then MySpace wants to be where you want to go. We’re planning to be aspiration and inspiration,” says Johnson.
This is at odds with the remaining users on ‘old’ MySpace, who are mostly from lower socio-economic consumer groups and people from countries with emerging economies, and when the old MySpace is turned off (‘new.MySpace’ and ‘MySpace will live concurrently for the foreseeable future) this will probably be the last roll of the dice for the existing history of the world’s first mega social media site.
Whether a new history emerges will begin depends on whether a new generation of artists, musicians, photographers and designers will engage with the new MySpace, as the old site did at the beginning of the last decade, and then bring all of us along with them.