I stumbled upon a fascinating essay recently through Dana Boyd’s blog about how class differences manifest themselves in whether a teen chooses to use Facebook or MySpace. In it, she hypothesizes that the ‘preps’ go for Facebook while the counter-culture types go for MySpace. This is a very interesting essay (warning: some mild language), and definitely food for thought.
Here’s an excerpt from the opening of Dana’s essay:
When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings (just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn’t until late 2004 that teens really started appearing en masse on MySpace and 2005 was the year that MySpace became the “in thing” for teens.
Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site. It slowly expanded to welcome people with .edu accounts from a variety of different universities. In mid-2005, Facebook opened its doors to high school students, but it wasn’t that easy to get an account because you needed to be invited. As a result, those who were in college tended to invite those high school students that they liked. Facebook was strongly framed as the “cool” thing that college students did. So, if you want to go to college (and particularly a top college), you wanted to get on Facebook badly. Even before high school networks were possible, the moment seniors were accepted to a college, they started hounding the college sysadmins for their .edu account. The message was clear: college was about Facebook.
For all of 2005 and most of 2006, MySpace was the cool thing for high school teens and Facebook was the cool thing for college students. This is not to say that MySpace was solely high school or Facebook solely college, but there was a dominating age division that played out in the cultural sphere.
When Facebook opened to everyone last September, it became relatively easy for any high school student to join (and then they simply had to get permission to join their high school network). This meant that many more high school teens did join, much to the chagrin and horror of college students who had already begun writing about their lack of interest in having HS students on “their” site. Still, even with the rise of high school students, Facebook was framed as being about college. This was what was in the press. This was what college students said. Facebook is what the college kids did. Not surprisingly, college-bound high schoolers desperately wanted in.
In addition to the college framing, the press coverage of MySpace as dangerous and sketchy alienated “good” kids. Facebook seemed to provide an ideal alternative. Parents weren’t nearly as terrified of Facebook because it seemed “safe” thanks to the network-driven structure.
Read the complete essay here.
I use both Facebook and MySpace (view my Facebook profile, my MySpace profile, or the Contrabass Conversations MySpace profile), and both platforms definitely have their advantages. MySpace is… well… just plain ugly much of the time. It is perhaps the worst user interface on a popular website to date. And it has spam. Tons of it. Spam profiles, spam e-mails, spam comments, and the like, plus big banner ads all over the site for all sorts of sketchy material.
Part of why MySpace is so darn ugly is that it is, by and large, an open platform. One can hack their profile to their heart’s content, adding videos, music, and other add-ons and arranging the page in any way they see fit.
The nature of the Facebook interface (at least thus far) keeps things clean and neat, plus it provides very simple and effective tools for communicating, like their news and mini-feed. It is also a classic example of a walled garden, originally only allowing college students to register, then opening up to high schools, corporations, and now the general public.
I like it a lot, although I must admit that MySpace is much easier to use as a vehicle for promotion, and there are a lot more bass players on MySpace at present (although that is sure to change). With their new third-part applications, people are finally being able to embed music, videos, and other things into their profiles.
Will these new applications take Facebook down the same path as MySpace? Perhaps, but there is a control system in place requiring some Facebook oversight of what is created for the platform.
To me, MySpace really IS grungy, and Facebook really IS preppy. So take your pick. Or use both, like I do.
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