Terrence Dixon: Tales of an Accelerated Future
A few hours ago I was watching The Social Network on the long flight from London to Los Angeles. Now Justin Timberlake, who played Napster co-founder Sean Parker in the 2010 movie about Facebook, is sat to my immediate left talking about the new Myspace. Things just got massively surreal – but they’ll get even more gaga if new Myspace owners Tim and Chris Vanderhook, along with Timberlake who owns a stake in the company, can give the dead social network the kiss of life.
“We know we need to re-earn the respect of the community.” Tim Vanderhook
This, it barely needs reiterating, is the site that went from being the place to discover new music (clicking through the Top Friends of friends was how fresh-faced bloggers and thirsty A&Rs spent their days in the late 2000s, and not without reward: Adele was discovered via Jack Penate’s Top Friends, fact fans) to tumbleweed central as it got progressively more frustrating to use. “I just deleted my Myspace page” became a familiar tweet around the turn of the decade. In $$$ terms, it went from being valued at $12 billion in 2007 to being sold for a relatively paltry $35 million to the Vanderhooks and Timberlake in June 2011. (Haha’s on Rupert Murdoch whose News Corporation business had bought it for $580 million in 2005.)
“We never looked at it as a rebranding; it was a completely new platform for us.” Justin Timberlake
So can they do it? Well, in the overwhelming plush surrounds of a West Hollywood hotel yesterday lunch time, I got the company line from the new owners (a touch marketing babble-y but promising overall), a product demo from the developers (pretty exciting, actually), a Q&A session with the Vanderhooks and Timberlake (intense and illuminating), plus I got the chance to set up an account on the beta site and play around with it myself. Here’s my verdict:
Why it could work
- It’s a completely new platform “We never looked at it as rebranding, it was about a completely new platform for us,” says Justin Timberlake. Which means the new Myspace has been “built from scratch” – using none of the code from the original Myspace. Hello seamless interaction, bye bye clunkiness.
- It’s the same but better Back in April A-Trak wrote a nostalgic piece for Huffington Post about what he missed about the original Myspace: Top Friends, customisation, tour dates, the ability to message other artists without having to be “friends” with them (the start of many a collaboration story) and, above all, having all artist info in one place. Myspace were clearly listening.
- It’s all about artists The new Myspace team know they need to “re-earn the respect of the community” and believe they will do this by being “for, by and about artists”, said Tim Vanderhook yesterday. This is where Justin Timberlake comes in, who Vanderhook has previously described as ‘the creative force’ behind the new Myspace, pushing the artist’s point of view throughout the development process of the last year. The outcome of that has been a focus on putting fan data and analytics into the hands of artists. Want to know who your biggest influencers are, the fans who are doing the most to spread the word about your music? The new Myspace will tell you. While Tim Vanderhook noted that currently the YouTube play count is the key indicator of success in the music community, the new Myspace will be all about deeper analysis of fan engagement – who they are, where they are, what else they’re into – so that artists can build stronger relationships with the fans that will make a difference to their careers. If they pull this off, it’s not hard to imagine a future where The xx’s marketing of ‘Coexist’ (they shared an exclusive first stream of the album with the band’s biggest fan and set up a global map to show how the stream was shared and spread) becomes the norm.
- It looks sexy Pure and simple, it looks great and is fun to use – with a focus on big, high-res images (which they insist on you using, you can’t upload low-res ones) and intuitive, tablet-inspired interaction.
“If I can learn it, anyone can learn it.” Justin Timberlake
Where it could miss a trick
- You have to start from scratch That’s right, if you still have a Myspace page, you can’t transfer over your current friends. Bummer. But, on the plus side, you can use Twitter or Facebook to set up your account and tempt your current followers/fans in that way. And you get a site that works, instead of one that doesn’t.
- There’s a lot going on A journalist from music tech site Venture Beat (who recently interviewed the Vanderhooks) sagely pointed out that the trend in social media is currently for simple, focused functionality. Hence, Twitter and Instagram doing well, and Facebook – anecdotally at least – starting to wane. Is there too much going on with the new Myspace?, she asked. While Tim Vanderhook admitted “there is a lot going on”, he appeared confident that people will feel like it’s intuitive once they get used to the technology. “If I can learn it, anyone can learn it,” said Justin with a grin. Good timing but also fair point.
- There are no current plans to let artists sell their music, Bandcamp-style This is a crucial one for me – they really need to do this to truly be “the home that artists want”. I put this to Tim and Chris Vanderhook and while they were clear that initial roll-out would be focused on regaining respect and momentum, “if artists want it then we’ll build it.” So get ready to get asking.
- Connect In new Myspace world, it’s all about connecting. It’s their version of like/friend/follow/subscribe and is a better model than Facebook friends (no dilemmas over who you accept or deny, so your newsfeed/stream isn’t full of people you didn’t want to offend but didn’t really want to friend). It’s also similar in vein to Twitter’s follow functionality, i.e. you can “connect” to someone and choose to receive their updates but they don’t have to “connect” to you, and vice versa.
- Affinity This is new Myspace talk for your similarity with another person, artist or even song, and is based on your music, your connections and your activity. “Affinity” will also feed into “Similar Artists” too.
- Spaces This is yet-to-be-launched but looks like the app side of the new Myspace, promising lots of creator tools.
While there are these few teething issues and a sprinkling of typos – rather cutely they list Jamie xx and Jamie Smith as two separate members of The xx on the band’s page – on the whole things look very promising indeed. It sounds like early 2013 will see the big public launch – fittingly, a decade on from when Myspace was first born – and, provided they deliver on their promises about empowering artists, tomorrow’s big names in music might once again be just a Top Friends click away.
Report by Ruth Saxelby from Los Angeles, 16th November 2012.