Remember the days when social network MySpace was a riot of flashing boxes and animated GIFs? As its visual clutter mounted, users drained away to the sparser white spaces of Facebook, and a new social networking cycle began.
In 2013, Myspace (without the capital S) is an altogether different beast. Relaunched as a social music site – and fresh out of beta this week – it sports bigger, bolder images of people and album artwork, and far less flashing ugliness.
It can’t escape its past entirely, though. Also new is a revamped version of Myspace’s iPhone app, armed with a feature named GIF Creator to help users “effortlessly make a stop-motion masterpiece, and share it instantly on your Myspace profile”.
It’s a nod to the popularity of Twitter’s Vine app, as well as to the Tumblr and BuzzFeed-led resurgence in animated GIFs. But also a nod back to the original MySpace. “We were forced by our membership to do it,” chief executive Tim Vanderhook tells Fast Company, in an interview stressing the role user feedback is playing in the site’s comeback strategy.
New Myspace was first shown off publicly in November 2012, after Vanderhook’s company Specific Media acquired the social network from its previous owner News Corporation in 2011. The site then launched in beta early in 2013 as an invite-only affair, with a strong emphasis on music and musicians, as well as designers, filmmakers and other creatives.
Besides the GIF Creator, Myspace’s iPhone app showcases another key feature that’s hoping to win back millions of users: Social Radio. Promising “your own personal radio station loaded with the music you love”, it’s just the latest in a growing queue of personal-radio services jostling for attention on smartphones: Pandora and iHeartRadio in the US, and the radio features in streaming services like Spotify and Deezer globally.
Oh, and iTunes Radio, which Apple announced this week at its WWDC conference in San Francisco, and which Vanderhook is already targeting as a less-interesting version of what Myspace is doing.
“I think we have a bigger idea,” he says in the Fast Company piece. “We’re giving everyone in the world their own radio station. We’re crowdsourcing to make new stations. Apple’s taking an algorithmic approach. That’s been done before.”
Myspace’s twist on the format is getting artists to curate radio stations for their fans to play, picking songs from their own back catalogues as well as tracks that have inspired them. Pharrell Williams, Lil Wayne, Carly Rae Jepsen and Myspace investor Justin Timberlake are among the first curators on board.
Myspace is sinking $20m into an advertising campaign to let people know about the new website and app, hammering home the message that things have changed a lot from the previous version’s darkest days under News Corp.
That past is inescapable for more reasons than the app’s GIF creation feature, though. TechCrunch notes that there are already users protesting that all their blog posts from the old MySpace have vanished as part of the relaunch, with no warning, or tools to help people download and preserve their data.
That may prove to be a short-term controversy for Myspace – if it can provide those tools – but its long-term challenge is to prove that its new site and app remains relevant amid a sea of streaming music, personal radio and music discovery services, not to mention the WhatsApp generation of messaging apps that are proving so appealing to the young people who should be Myspace’s lifeblood.