A funny thing happened after my drive home from a Los Angeles press junket where MySpace executives Tim Vanderhook, Chris Vanderhook, and Justin Timberlake gave members of the media a detailed tour of the yet-to-be-unveiled site: I changed my mind.
While dictating detailed notes into my iPhone during the drive, I decided that the second coming of MySpace is like an extremely beautiful woman who also possesses the intelligence of a scholar — too much to absorb.
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If you can have too much of a good thing, the reincarnated MySpace is that thing, I reasoned.
But when I sat down to write this story and actually started exploring MySpace and its 53 million tracks, I got lost in the experience. Suddenly, the words of the executive brothers from earlier in the day came back to me.
“You give users a couple of days and they become hooked,” CEO Tim said. He was responding to my query as to whether MySpace was too convoluted, too complicated.
He’s right. I’ve spent a few hours with the site. I think I’m hooked.
“The Internet just became boring,” COO Chris said to a room of eight reporters (and several handlers), all of whom were hoping to hear more from Mr. Sexy-Back. “There was nothing fun anymore … I want to make it fun to use MySpace.”
It is fun, and so I have to amend my conclusion to this: Wrapped in a pretty package and equipped with brains to match, MySpace feels too good to be true. It’s not. No joke.
Gushing aside, there’s a full review to be had, not all so glowing, so let’s get to it.
A different kind of space
Log on to MySpace and you’ll find a design so noticeably different from anything else you’ve encountered that it will be hard to look away.
Designed for artists and their fans, the new MySpace, said every executive and product manager I talked to, is not a redesign. It’s a new product with a new purpose and a design meant to evoke emotion. MySpace wants to draw people into relationships with creatives and the content they produce.
“The standout feature is the design. No doubt,” Chris said. “We really changed the level of expectations of consumers about what design is for a website.”
The site features two separate navigation options. The global navigation bar sits at the bottom of the page and includes links to your homepage and profile alongside notifications and message hubs. The bottom navigation bar also features a “Discover” button that directs you to a portion of the site for music and media exploration, a search button, and music controls to manage streaming wherever you roam. This bar follows you around the site and is meant to help you dive into (and out of) content.
A separate contextual navigation menu rests on the left-hand side of the page and changes depending on the type of page or content you’re viewing.
On the homepage, you are presented with a stream of content that spans the activity of the people and objects you’ve indicated you care about. You can limit the stream to a specific type of content, say posts or music, or you can view everything. The stream runs on the horizontal, meaning you’ll be scrolling from left to right instead of from top to bottom. Everything in the stream can be interacted with via a two-ring “connection” icon that represents your relationship with that object.
Should a pal listen to a bunch of music, you’ll see the activity in your stream. You can hover over each song to play the track, add it to a music queue, send it in a message, add it to a multimedia collection (called “mixes”), and so forth. Each of these hover cards also highlights similar content and includes percentages that measure the affinity between you and an object.
If you want to share something, you can find the post button on your homepage. The post experience takes over the entire page, and you can share a 150-character update with a photo or track, and your location.
Searching is automatic. Sure, there’s a button included in the global navigation bar, but you never need it. All you need to do is start typing. The site will automatically return matching songs, artists, albums, people, mixes, and videos as you type.
Music is enmeshed into the entire experience, so for any track you find on the site, you can either click to listen to it or drag it to a hidden music drawer that opens with your action. If you opt to watch music videos, videos are shown in full-screen. You can watch videos and browse the greater space at the same time; the video will continue to play in the bottom right-hand corner of the site as you explore.
Of course, there are cover photos for profiles. MySpace’s only original twist here is to require high-resolution imagery to maintain quality control (now that’s a twist!).
Altogether, the many unique design elements and interface choices make for an engrossing but curious flow. There’s a steep learning curve here, though it be may be one that excites new users. Figuring out how some of the features work or deciphering what some of the words mean will either be tedious or enticing tasks depending on your mood.
I suspect you’ll find the stream and its horizontal scroll captivating, the integrated music player in the bottom bar fantastic, and the side reels that slide in for additional info and comments flighty and annoying.
An hour or two into the new MySpace experience and you should have a good idea of how to complete most tasks, though you may find yourself lost down some strange corridor, as was often my experience. You should also start to see why MySpace is a space all its own. Yes, the new MySpace overlaps with Spotify, Pandora, Vevo, YouTube, Facebook, and many other music and social services, but it feels different — special even. Tim, Chris, and Justin have made good on their promise to build a place for creatives.
Time to learn a new language
Don’t expect to arrive at MySpace and understand the language. The service has concocted new names for familiar tasks; it’s an approach that strikes me as overwrought.
You don’t make friends, “like” content, or fan or follow celebrities on MySpace. Instead, you “connect” with everything: people you know, artists you love, tracks you like, photos you appreciate, and videos you enjoy.
Connections play a huge, sometimes confusing role in the overall experience.
I don’t understand why you would take the time to connect to an individual artist and also to each of that artist’s songs. In fact, connecting with objects in the same way you connect with people is a bit jarring, even if the process theoretically simplifies the act of indicating interest in things.
You’ll also need to add “mixes” to your lexicon. Mixes are MySpace’s version of Pinterest boards and can be hybrid collections of different media types, serve as playlists, or act as portfolios. You can add to mixes as you browse either via hover cards or by dragging-and-dropping music to the disappearing drawer.
Welcome back profile songs and top 8
Those who loved the MySpace of yore will appreciate that the site’s new owners have returned profile songs to the experience.
You can once again feature your current favorite track on your profile. You can also hit a “Play All” button to cycle through the profile songs of all your connections.
The “top 8″ is another oldie but goodie back on the scene. This profile section displays the people or artists you choose to feature as your eight favorites.
More than just a pretty face
The new MySpace is easy on the eyes, but its depth may be its most exciting asset — or its most crippling.
“There is a lot going on,” Tim said. “We wanted to provide this experience that has a lot of depth to it. There are other platforms … Pandora, Spotify, but there’s no depth of just learning more and more.”
There is a lot going on. As if streams, mixes, and connections weren’t enough, there’s also a ubiquitous radio feature that employs a custom MySpace algorithm but mimics the functionality of Pandora. A “Spaces” module will house third-party applications at some point. Artists get analytics. You get content recommendations for practically everything.
Is there anything the new MySpace can’t do? Well, yes, music downloads or sales — for now anyway.
Discover is arguably the sexiest section of MySpace, and it’s also the deepest.
This is the area dedicated to media exploration. Here you can find a smattering of editorial features written by staff, check out other MySpace users with similar tastes, find new music, pan through top mixes, dive into videos picked for you, or start your own radio station. Everything in the music and video sections can be fine-tuned by genre or restricted to stuff popular with just the people in your area.
Old-fashioned social networking
Good, old-fashioned social networking, the kind that MySpace originally helped to invent in 2003, asked a lot of every person. You would sign up, create an account, and spend hours filling in the holes of your profile, finding friends to follow or looking for exes to stalk, and perfecting your image.
In more recent years, that social model has been supplanted by one that’s simpler and more immediately gratifying. Take Instagram, where you sign up with Facebook and start sharing or exploring photos instantaneously. Your image is crafted by your photos and there’s very little required of you in terms of time, attention, or comprehension.
New MySpace is a blast from the past. The service does not simplify the social stream, it complicates it. MySpace demands a lot of you. You must learn a new language, adjust to a new navigation, seek out entertainment, and devote time to understanding the nuances of the site.
My fear is that in trying to take people deep into a musical abyss, MySpace will lose those who lack patience. Those who do stick around, however, may never want to leave.
The new MySpace is still in beta. The site is gradually being rolled out to people in waves, starting with artists.
VB’s research team is studying mobile user acquisition: Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.