In this post, Cathie McGinn takes a first look at the new MySpace, currently being rolled out in private beta, and wonders whether MySpace can find a place in today’s market.
I received an unexpected email today.
“It’s here” it said. “Now all it needs is you.”
It was an invitation to try out the new MySpace. I was intrigued; I had been a fan of Old MySpace back in what I believe is termed ‘the day’ and fondly remember the joy of obscure music discovery and being able to hack HTML with the Pimp My Profile tools to create a profile design contravening all known standards of taste and decency. Crawling ants, flashing colours, revolting choice of fonts…
It certainly looks very different now. The endless expanse of grey space that greeted me on my profile page is actually meant for showcasing images, and when I make it to the “discover” section, I see that it can look stunning.
Whether any of my crappy iPhone photos will really make best use of the screen real estate is another question. In fact, since uploaded photos must be 1024 x 768 pixels, they’re probably not invited to the party.
“When you find media you like, click the connect button to add it to your library” advises the home page. Only I can’t find the “connect” button; in fact you have to go down a navigation level into a profile before you can “connect” with anything at all.
“What’s the latest?” asks the status update box. “Well, things have changed around here, and as yet I’m not sure it’s for the better, though I am enjoying the lack of sex pest emails from people pretending to be hot libidinous Brazilians that eventually caused me to ditch the old site,” is what I would like to say, but since I have yet to find the option that allows me to set privacy levels, I don’t bother. The text limit is akin to Twitter, with a 150 character limit.
A new introduction – a lesson the Global Mail learned the hard way – is the sideways scrolling navigation that goes on for days, along with a confusing rollover semi-opaque play bar at the bottom of the page called the ‘deck’, where new messages, my playlists and favourite radio stations will live.
The deck often pops up uninvited when I’m trying to drag three feet of sideways scroll bar back to the beginning. You can pin it to stay up when you’ve finally seen the small skeumorphic thumbtack icon on the left, but then certain other navigation actions become unusable. Weirdly, when you land on a profile page or article, you then scroll down, rather than L-R across the rest of the site.
I can make no sense of this inconsistency; I’d assumed it would be intended for tablet but astonishingly, when I tried it on iPad, the ‘tap to search’ function simply doesn’t work. And you can’t even log in from a mobile device.
An interesting feature is that you can start to type a search query from any part of the site, without needing to click a search bar. Just start typing and you’re switched to the startlingly ugly Soviet-style concrete grey minimalist search function, with options popping up as you type, a la Google Instant Search.
There are certain inconsistencies: clicking the “connect” symbol on a track or artist instantly posts it to your profile, or feed, or “sideswipe” as I think it should be referred to, but you can’t “connect” to an article.
You’d also better not be ashamed of your music taste, because everything you do is set to be immediately publicly viewable on your sideswipe profile page. This is, of course, the strongest point of the new site: the music range is huge.
I spent some time going down the eclectic best-forgotten indie rabbit hole and was surprised by the range, uninterrupted (so far) by advertising. As you’d expect, new owner Justin Timberlake’s back catalogue is hard to miss.
Each artist’s page has a taxonomy of “themes and tones” which I assumed would be hyperlinked, but they’re static, and searching based on the keywords listed draws a blank.
You can drag individual tracks and drop them onto your ‘deck’, although I discovered this quite by mistake. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking life is too short, or I’m too smart to bother taking full tutorials – which is of course at least partly untrue – but what this must mean is that there will be a large percentage of new users who won’t be making the most of the cool features of the site.
I expect it’s not that the interface is unnecessarily tricky and at times borderline unusable though; it’s probably that I’m old and easily confused.
So what gap does New MySpace fill?
I love the extensive music library, but I already have Spotify or Rdio to stream and sync to my mobile. The social features are interesting but nothing other social networks don’t offer me in time-wasting potential.
It’s telling that you can connect with Facebook, but given that site is already overrun with third party notifications, I’m not sure where the benefit is for either platform – Facebook retaining data, MySpace gaining second hand users.
On first glance, it’s a triumph of form over function, beauty over utility.
The revenue model is unclear at present. JT and his fellow investors will need a strong plan in place to recoup the $35 million purchase costs they sank last year, plus whatever this relaunch is setting them back. The site is, of course, still in closed beta, and I’m certain it will be a smoother more user friendly experience by the public launch.
It’s here. Now all it needs is a clear strategic advantage, USP, revenue model, and perhaps a bit more time in development.