Internet critics were pleasantly amused at the purchase of MySpace by brothers Chris and Tim Vanderhook in 2012, with most of the attention being focused on the paltry $35 million that exchanged hands – quite a loss for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp who purchased the company for $580m.
While News Corp did little to expand the format and smooth out some of the unappealing features, the new kids on the scene, Facebook, were rapidly making moves towards the summit of the social networking business, cementing its position in 2008 as part of a max exodus from the dated MySpace for more user-friendly options.
Since 2008 MySpace has gone through a series of redesigns, each change bringing it gradually closer to mimicking its new superior site. In 2010 the transformation was complete: MySpace now featured a very familiar white and blue colour scheme, and even linked profiles to the much larger Facebook site through ‘Facebook Connect’ – an option which allows users to sign into third party websites using their Facebook profile.
While many laughed at the colossal loss of News Corp’s investment, plenty were even more stunned that somebody was even willing to buy a business that had so clearly, and for so long, been slipping down the coolness scoreboards. Opinion started to change in September 2012 when a Justin Timberlake tweet offered a sneak peek at the newly remodelled site kicked off a sizeable amount of hype.
This is a sign of the passion that the Vanerhook brothers are bringing to the company. As former users of the original MySpace, they’ve sought to rebuild the site on what they view as the primary asset of the business: its unique status as a historic format in the recent history of music in helping to introduce so many current big name artists, and its ability to connect artists and fans directly.
One big step in moving back towards credibility has been recruiting Justin Timberlake as a co-owner and creative mind involved in the project. In regaining relevance for music fans, new MySpace’s first big challenge will be to entice musicians to return to the site, and having the current ‘Prince of Pop’ giving it his personal attention will go a long way to influencing people of its worth.
Timberlake has also hinted at a talent contest being set up centred around MySpace to re-establish the brand as a market leader in new music.
Indeed music, and by extension arts and culture, seems to be the driving idea behind new MySpace. The new format is being promoted as a ‘music discovery site’ competing with the likes of Pandora and Spotify, as opposed to trying to beat Facebook on pure social networking terms. MySpace’s new tactic is not to resist Facebook conventionally, but rather to rebuild a business by using Facebook’s dominance.
How ‘new MySpace’ works
New users entering the site are greeted with the option of choosing either the classic version or the ‘new Myspace’ version. Immediately upon opening up the new site the viewer is greeted with an appealing layout and typography, with ‘featured’ sections under categories of music, mixes, videos and radio flashing up on the right hand side, while further categories of each pop up available in the middle section.
Another obvious difference is the side-scrolling bar, in which the users now browse horizontally, showing an attempt to differentiate its format from other popular, vertical-scrolling, sites.
The new MySpace seems to aim to be a central portal for all involved in the creative industries, again showing a bold departure from its previous base, which was typically a network of teen fans. New MySpace has reacted well to the new climate in this regard. Despite the world-wide recession, the creative industries are much stronger and established these days, and MySpace’s new look site seems to be aiming to provide a service for artists of all forms: no longer just for musicians but also for photographers, artists, writers, etc. As well as providing publicity for artists, there is also the option of selling tickets and merchandise through the site.
The new format is certainly ambitious in attempting to combine the best of the internet for creative types. It provides free music streaming channels (borrowing from the aforementioned Pandora and Spotify), photo galleries (a la Pintrest and Tumblr), music videos (in the same way as YouTube) as well as some high-quality articles (reflecting the popularity of blogs such as Pitchfork).
One of the main criticisms is that this is simply combining too much at once and hence makes the site difficult to navigate. As well as this, it seems largely difficult to tell who you are sharing content with – as they have lessened the importance of ‘friending’ people in favour of arts/music discovery the site seems to function more like Twitter than Facebook in that you share information without ever being clear about who is viewing it.
This new move towards complexity has its positive points however. The new search engine has been widely applauded. Tapping on the search option now brings up a separate screen that rapidly adapts and updates a wide array of artists, songs, images and various links rapidly as the user types, allowing for a fun browsing experience suitable for online discovering binges. As mentioned briefly before, the writing quality has been dramatically improved to cater for a more mature audience. Artist biographies are typically concise and informative in a style and tone immediately reminiscent of allmusic.com’s approach. Another interesting tactic is the option of fans earning rewards (such as tickets and merchandise) based on listening and sharing music, as the Vanderhook Brothers aim to tap into the fierce loyalty that first characterised the early, profitable, days of MySpace.
It remains to be seen whether a sufficient amount of users will become used to this more complicated format for it to once again function as a popular and relevant vehicle for exploring new music and culture. While the brand still needs a lot of work to rescue it from its current ‘has been’ status, these recent moves by the new owners are certainly attracting the kind of attention the site has been sorely lacking for at least half a decade. Co-owner Tim Vanderhook is confident in their prospects in this regard, commenting confidently, ‘if you give people a product and great experience, consumers are willing to give you that second chance’.
Text by Evan Musgrave