MySpace’s metamorphosis?

That MySpace is “showing flickers of life,” as the Los Angeles Times puts it, is quite an understatement, especially to music fans. Year-over-year traffic to MySpace music “has increased 1,017%” since the music site launched last September, World Market Media reports, and it ranks third behind AOL Music and Yahoo Music and ahead of MTV Networks Music and Pandora.com.

MySpace has big plans for its music channel, which just could become the tail that wags the dog. The music site’s president, Courtney Holt, who left MTV for MySpace Music last November, “plans to make the site a data goldmine for figuring out what’s going to be the next big thing in pop music – helpful not only to artists and users, but producers and agents, too,” reports the New York Observer. MySpace’s music community will “publish trends, track influencers and create lists of top-played and playlisted content of not only major bands and artists but also of all the independent work on millions of MySpace artist pages,” the Observer adds. “If done right, they could create a new kind of Top 40 hit list for online music.”

My husband Ron, an avid music fan, said, “I’m surprised it has taken MySpace this long!” and I think he’s right. It is, after all, a social site where tunes are talking points in ongoing conversations between artists and their fans. “They could blow iTunes out of the water – iTunes is too corporate, and Genius [its software that finds new songs according to users’ past purchases] is robotic,” Ron added. It’s like a videogamer playing against software in the game as opposed to other gamers in multiplayer online games. Dealing with fellow humans is just a lot more interesting. As if to confirm this, Gigaom reports that “iTunes needs to get social” and is planning to provide provide “a more interactive album-purchasing experience.”

MySpace’s built-in opportunity

Anastasia Goodstein over at YPulse.com seems to agree that MySpace is at a turning point. “Everything I’ve read lately about how MySpace is planning to reposition itself makes me optimistic that the site could emerge stronger than ever by literally going back to its roots of being a hub for young tastemakers,” she writes.

Certainly Facebook “won the social networking war,” as Anastasia put it, but Facebook is more a utility (a social utility) that everybody needs than the self-expression tool or canvas that MySpace has always been, something that works better for a smaller, more vertical user base (my last post on this is here) and as such can look messy at times. Its new CEO, Owen Van Natta, recently said in London that it intends to be a “window for the youth (16-30) to reflect all their creative talents,” The Telegraph reports. That fits the latest Nielsen research, since “people between the ages of 12 and 17 were 2.4 time more likely than the average active Internet user to visit music.myspace.com [last month],” and visitors 18-24 were 2.2 times more likely to.

I’m not idealizing things – it’s a full range of self-expression, from porn-queen wannabe pages to serious graphic design (of MySpace profiles). But there are many opportunities for positive self-expression in MySpace, as well as for exposure to creativity represented in the service’s media communities. [See also “MySpace’s PR problem and “Boys & girls on Web 2.0.”]

Comparisons

Eszter Hargittai at Northwestern University recently release some fresh data comparing MySpace and Facebook use among first-year college students. She relates two main findings: 1) Besides a general increase the use of Facebook since 2007 (when 79% of first-year students surveyed used Facebook, compared to 87% now; compared to 55% using MySpace then and 36% now), 2) “we continue to see ethnic and racial differences as well as different usage by parental education (a proxy for socioeconomic status). Students of Hispanic origin are more likely to use MySpace than others and less likely to use Facebook than others. Asian-American students are the least likely to be on MySpace.” For danah boyd’s findings on ethnic and socioeconomic differences, from talking with teens around the country, see also “Does Social Networking Breed Social Division?”

“Regarding parental education,” Hargittai writes, “the relatively small number (7%) of students in the sample whose parents have less than a high school education are much more likely to be on MySpace and much less likely to be on Facebook than others.” Here’s one mother’s very balanced view of social networking.


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