After taking an absolute beating in the social media space, MySpace has finally made a change. And, at first look, it's quite impressive. But before we dive into the details, let's back up a few years.
Myspace was the hottest thing online. Users were flocking to the site, making friends and, most important, expressing themselves. User profile page backgrounds were customized (an entire industry sprang up overnight for Myspace backgrounds), rich media content was published and messages where sent back and forth. Then, Facebook graduated from the college ranks and blew everything apart for Myspace. By February 2009, Facebook claimed the traffic crown from Myspace and never looked back.
That happened, in part, because of the customization factor with Myspace. Backgrounds became loaded with flashing and animated elements, content was shuffled, code was mangled and the site became sluggish and just plain ugly. The atmosphere took on the feel of an online red-light district - anything goes, there was little to no policing of content and spam was running rampant. The site lacked focus. Or, to borrow a favorite expression, the inmates were running the asylum. What was Myspace? Was it a social network? An entertainment portal?
On the other hand, Facebook was sleek, easy to use, lightweight and far less buggy. It was touted as a way to connect with people and communicate. So, the older, more "sophisticated" crowd left Myspace, never to return. But a critical element stuck it out with Myspace - the young, artistic, entertainment-focused and, perhaps most important, musicians. And to this end, Myspace has finally embraced its identity.
The new Myspace* is focused on content delivery - namely entertainment - on a personal and customizable level.
For registered users, the home page will adjust according to your interests and past behaviors (say, if you often click on stories about a famous actor) with fresh content that is constantly updated thanks to Myspace "curators." Users can also choose between three different views - list view, grid view and play view, which allows users to watch, forward and resize their updates to full screen. The image to the right is a user profile in grid view, displaying all of their chosen, customized content.
There are more than 20,000 topic pages (centered around particular matter such as a TV show or The New York Times), hub pages centered on celebrities, movies, games, sports and fashion, recommendations, and a discovery tab that combines videos that friends are watching with what’s trending in real time on Myspace. A 'My Stuff' tab shows a user's personal preferences such as their profile, photos, videos and uploaded content. And, of course, personal profiles can be built and customized - that's the area that appears to have changed the least. But make no mistake - this new brand of Myspace is centered on content, not communication.
Now, let's look at how Myspace rebranded and why it will be successful.
Earlier we mentioned that a very important user group, musicians, stayed with Myspace through the lean years. In fact, not only did they stay but new musicians and bands flocked to the site. You would be hard-pressed to find many bands that do not have a presence on Myspace. So, the website became known for this. If you wanted to hear a band, head to Myspace. Bloggers, music critics and fans knew exactly where to go to hear a few songs in their entirety, for free. In other words, people knew where to go to get what they wanted and Myspace delivered.
This is one element that kept Myspace going and this is what they embraced. Instead of attempting to go toe-to-toe with Facebook, Myspace sharpened their focus on what they do best and what their audience and the greater Web world expected from them. Next, they cleaned up the site and took back a measurable portion of control but left the focus on the user to customize their own content. This is exemplified nicely with their new logo, seen below. It's "My" with open brackets - representing a blank canvas on which users can create whatever they like, carving out their very own space on the Web.
It took time for Myspace to wake up. Perhaps too much time. But, this new iteration of the website has dusted off old criticisms and revamped a once industry-leading brand. Where Facebook is clean (almost dull these days) and focused squarely on interaction and making friends, the new Myspace is all about delivering bright, vibrant and viral content, where and how their users want it.
As a Web professional, does this suggest you should stop chasing the leaders in your industry? Absolutely not. Take this as a lesson in how to relaunch a tired brand and in understanding, then harnessing the power of an audience. By focusing on their core audience and optimizing with that audience in mind, Myspace has an excellent chance to not only survive but thrive in an entirely new way. Every business and every brand has a core strength. Identify what that is, why the audience wants it and then deliver.
*The new Myspace is currently in beta. It will go public at the end of November, 2010.