MySpace is back, again. But this time, it realises how horrible it used to be — and almost everything old is gone. It's a totally fresh start. Unfortunately, New MySpace is like Old MySpace in one very important way: It's still stupid.
I was invited to use New MySpace before it opened to the public. This meant there weren't very many people on it. Reviewing a social media site when it's closed to almost all seven billion living humans is sort of akin to reviewing an empty bar or vacated theme park. Still, although it's possible that people will join en masse and create some kind of ineffably cool atmosphere, everything you're about to read is about the fundamentals of New MySpace. Things that won't change no matter how many people do (or don't) eventually sign up.
This is MySpace's third life. It's like some tortured science fiction character trying to escape the cycle of miserable reincarnation.
When MySpace began, it was bad, but it was massively popular, because no one knew any better. Then Facebook happened.
In its second life, MySpace's new corporate owners tried to switch on the bilge pump with a tacky redesign that fixed none of MySpace's underlying flaws and put not even a dink on Facebook's sheen. It bombed.
Now, with the almighty power of Justin Timberlake jolting through it, MySpace wants to be something completely new. Not a Facebook could-have-been. Not A Place for Friends. Something completely new. And because it used to command the attention of millions upon millions of people, once upon a time, we're going to pay attention to this experiment at least out of nostalgia. One last chance.
There's too much to do on the New MySpace. Spotify-style music streaming, YouTube-style video streaming, pseudo-tweets, a Faux Facebook News Feed, all swirled together. But unlike the services it copies and attempts to blend, there's no clear way to use New MySpace. It goes in too many directions at once. When you sit down in front of it for the first time, you're lost.
There's a news feed that's sorta like Facebook's, showing you the latest things your friends have done — songs they've played, videos they've watched, musicians they've liked. But it scrolls sideways. And it's jittery.
There's a catalog of streaming music — with all major labels onboard — but no coherent way to browse. You can scroll (sideways) through your friends' playlists, but it's a slow, clunky process of wading through giant thumbnails. You can search, but that brings up an artist's catalog, unsorted, with a mish-mash of "related artists" thrown in the mix. The entire audio component is a visual headache.
The basic motivation for using New MySpace, as far as I can tell, is to make your news feed of stuff-being-watched-and-listened-to as vibrant as possible. You can "connect" to "friends" and "artists," and in turn, assorted blips from those people will appear on your feed. Then you can click on them, presumably finding stuff you wouldn't have otherwise, and enriching your life beyond measure. But it just doesn't work like that. It's never clear what exactly you're sharing, who's going to see it, or why.
I uploaded a photo of myself on vacation this past October. Since MySpace intimacy is asymmetrical, more akin to Twitter follows than Facebook friends, I don't know who's seeing me on a mountain. If I click on the picture, there's a little orb icon next to it. If I click that — hoping for privacy settings — I'm told I have "no connections with this entity." What? Which entity? The mountain? Myself? You don't want existential crises when you click things on a social network. You want easy functionality. If I hover over a person's name, I don't want to see a absurd venn diagram displaying their "affinity" (for what? for whom?). For every ounce of good intention New MySpace offers, there's a pound of bad design and confusion.
New MySpace looks very nice at a glance. The colours are pleasant, the typography is charming and modern, and there are plenty of high-resolution pictures to gawk at. There are even some very clever design choices: If you start typing from anywhere on the site, the entire window will convert to an enormous instant search screen. It's fun.
None of it comes together. Nothing works the way it should. Nothing is easy to find, be it Madonna or your neighbour. None of the songs stream with the fidelity of other services, and all of the videos look like blown-up tiny YouTubes. None of your favourite bands make it easy to follow them. None of your favourite non-musical figures make it easy to share in their cultural wisdom. Nothing is easy to find. None of New MySpace's features work well with the others. Nobody will have the patience to scroll through their New MySpace news feed — even in closed beta, mine is already overwhelmed by visually-chunky updates that make skimming impossible.
The sad thing is that the New MySpace is just not fun to use. There's no reason to use it anyway. It's a cobbling-together things that don't belong together but have been roped into being neighbors. Is it a social network? Not really, and if so, it's a bad one. Is it a music discovery service? Maybe, but it's like looking into the wrong end of a telescope. Is it a photo sharing site? Haha, no. Is it Twitt — no. And yet it resembles these things.
No. New MySpace offers nothing. If you want the friend stuff, use Facebook. If you want the music stuff, use Spotify or Rdio. It's just not any better than what you already have.
Video edited by Michael Hession. Music: Doodler's End Loop by Upright TRex.