The hidden lives of MySpacers

Why opinions from anybody but users rarely matter.

It’s too fun to play pundit. When MySpace was growing hugely popular, about the time that it was sold to News Corp. for 580 million dollars, everyone had an opinion about it.

It’s ugly. It’s horribly designed. They got lucky. It’s just perfect timing. The page views are way out of whack. It’s a fluke. Whatever the reason, it was en vogue to trash the site. Very few people who didn’t use the site (other than investors) gave much credit to the amazing growth and success they were enjoying.

The people sharing their opinions: designers, technologists, journalists, weren’t the people who mattered. They (we) didn’t matter because they (we) weren’t using the site.

Then I had a conversation with an actual MySpacer, and I never thought about MySpace the same. Kelli was despondent. I asked her what was wrong, and she brought up MySpace. “My boyfriend, well now my ex-boyfriend, completely deleted me from his MySpace account. I was first on his Top 8 list, and now I’m not on his list and I can’t even view his profile. He un-friended me.”

To her, MySpace wasn’t just a web site, it was an integral part of her social life. What happened there was as real as anything offline. She explained that since all of her friends were also on the site, being removed from a Top 8 List was a form of public punishment. Her boyfriend might just as well have stood up in the school cafeteria and shouted that the relationship was over. It was a statement about social standing, about being accepted as a part of a group, and it affected her emotionally as much as a face-to-face interaction.

That kind of thing happens every day on MySpace: to people who are invested in the site in a way that no pundit ever could be, even if they tried. There are relationships being broken, fixed, and created all the time and people who don’t use the site will never know it until they ask.

So don’t listen to pundits, loud bloggers, or any individual just because they have a large following or can make a lot of noise, especially if they haven’t used the site on a regular basis! Make sure that the sample of people you’re listening to is part of the actual user population. It will completely change your conception of what social software is.

Published: April 20th, 2007