Today I cancelled my MySpace account

I’m not one for being rash and I am not particularly worried about privacy online. I used Friendster frequently for a couple of years and I remember when people’s accounts started mentioning “moving to MySpace because it’s better,” and frankly I can not remember for the life of me what the argument was. Nonetheless, I eventually created an account for myself and all of my musical identities, and I befriended some 50 or so people which were at least 50% musical entities.

I never really “got” MySpace. Not many of my friends use it regularly, except those who enjoy dating and of course those with bands. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by the site design and the resulting profile pages that people create there. I still use it to promote my music and I see the value as a publishing tool and media hosting service. However, for the last year I have not logged in to MySpace under my own identity once, and I receive at least 10 spam friend invitations per month.

So today I cancelled my MySpace account.

Unlike so many web brands that I identify with (Flickr, Upcoming, del.icio.us, and Facebook, to name a few), I see no long term value for remaining a MySpace member. Here’s my reasoning:

  • It’s not easy to do anything
  • There aren’t any services provided that aren’t available elsewhere
  • I don’t need to be a member to take advantage of their media
  • There aren’t any members with whom I could not communicate otherwise
  • I’m not looking to find people to date

Which leaves me with zero reasons to remain a member. So long MySpace, and thanks for all the free webcam girls.

Orkut to take over MySpace?

Orkut logoAlexa has recently been improving the global coverage of their traffic statistics. Their Global 500 now shows a number of sites that have almost zero attention in the US market (e.g. Baidu, QQ, and Yahoo Japan). Many on this list had a negligible presence on Alexa a year ago, most likely due to their marketing of the Alexa Toolbar in foreign markets.

While I was looking at the list of top 10 global sites, one was extremely startling: Orkut, Google’s social networking service that has been extremely successful in Brazil. Since January of last year, Orkut has grown by a factor of 10, moving from a daily reach of 3,000 to 30,000 per million. Since MySpace’s traffic has been more or less constant over that time period, it’s not surprising that Orkut has covered some major ground towards being the world’s largest social networking service:

Orkut vs. MySpace 1 year

Looking more specifically at the race for top ranked social networking service, it appears that the two will be neck and neck from here on out:

Orkut vs. MySpace

Orkut gets no attention in the US market mainly because their US presence is tiny compared to Facebook, MySpace or even Friendster. If they take the number one spot worldwide, will Americans respond? Google paid $900M to be MySpace’s search provider, a partnership that might lead people to believe that their business interest in social networking was diminishing. Another explanation could be their interest in monetizing a mature social networking service while Orkut continues to grow. As the service continues to drive traffic globally, it is inevitable that the press will take notice, and Google can take this opportunity to grow their domestic user base.

I hadn’t logged in to Orkut for years, but upon returning I realized that very little has changed. Same strange photos, same hearts and ice cubes, same periwinkle-and-purple color scheme. Orkut’s growth reinforces the fact that the value of social networking services, and social software in general, comes from the base of active users, not the set of features they offer.

Facebook opens registration

facebook logoFacebook has recently been making big changes, such as offering APIs and experimenting with privacy. Some of these changes have been met with positive feedback, and others with hostility, but it is obvious from these recent experiments that they are testing new waters. Probably the biggest change they have proposed though is opening registration to anyone interested in joining (Techcrunch coverage here). Facebook’s message to users makes is sound as though they providing a needed service, but I think their intentions are clear: they want to beat MySpace, and they aren’t going to wait for long.

As with any massively engaged social system it’s extremely hard to predict how the entire community will collectively react to a decision like open registration. In order to think about how this change might affect adoption and usage, let me first introduce a two unique qualities of their current system.

Fresh networks: College students have a unique need for networking software. When a freshman arrives at school, they have few friends, and an overwhelming number of people to interact with. Somehow every year, hundreds of thousands of freshmen figure things out and new networks arise. Facebook provides a service to these newcomers, allowing them to search and locate people with similar tastes in a much more efficient manner.

Natural privacy: The first security model employed by Facebook was extremely restrictive, allowing only those individuals at a given school to see others within the same domain. However, this boundry sits at a natural location: schools are communities with extremely strong ingroup affiliation, and growing or shrinking this boundary does not make the group any more cohesive. Schools have formal systems for dealing with problems that might arise from students, taking the load off of Facebook.

Both of these properties are changing with open registration. First, people signing up from outside a college will not be in the position of looking for an entirely new network of friends. This means growth will be much slower, and will not reach the saturation rates that Facebook sees among college users. Instead of having nearly 100% of college students, they will be selecting for users who have certain demographic profiles.

Second, privacy will no longer be as simple as being in the same email domain as your friends. The site has a host of new privacy features, such as specifying the level of visibility of your profile to each friend. The complexity introduced by this lack of natural boundaries will make it harder for the system to match users’ real lives. Those students that used the system because it was easy might rethink their decision.

Third, the boundaries that created strong ingroup affiliation will no longer be relevant. Even though privacy boundaries will still exist, because users will have more friends from the outside, the distinction between “my college” and the outside world will not be as relevant. Not considered a college tool by users, it might very well stop being used as such.

To restate, it’s hard to predict how massive social systems will change with the introduction of new members, but opening registration to the masses will certainly introduce some sort of catalyst into the system. They were smart to wait until this year’s incoming class had adopted the tool, but we may very well see a different reaction from new students next year.

Myspace graffiti

While walking through the streets of Florence, we stumbled upon a perplexing piece of graffiti:

I’m sure people have written about MySpace and tagging, but this is absurd. How did AndyG, a 25 year old hip hop artist from Orange County (or a fan) decide to promote his music on an ancient building in Florence?

If this graffiti artist had read the plaques before tagging, s/he could have actually put this advertisement on the birthplace and childhood home of Michaelangelo, which was right across the alley.