My Header Hurts, My Feed Stinks and I Don’t Love MySpace


We’ve been talking a lot about social networks lately.  I’ve said many times that I don’t get MySpace.  A few folks have tried to explain it to me.  Nevertheless, when I look at MySpace, I still see the worst of ugly Geocities and walled-off AOL all rolled into one.  It’s worse than Prodigy.  It’s GEnie on crack.

It’s a gallery of bad web design, user unfriendliness, intrusive advertising and dead end links.  I don’t care if the whole world is there, it’s ugly.  Horrible, I tell you.

And I ought to know.  I just got back from wandering around MySpace for a couple of hours.  My header hurts, my feed stinks and I most certainly don’t love MySpace.

Here’s how it started.

I noticed the other day that a musician buddy of mine has a MySpace page.  His looks like everyone else’s, so I’m not picking on him when I use his page as an entry point to the many things I dislike about MySpace.  Go to any MySpace page and you can follow along, because they all look the same.  Bad.

First, music starts to play automatically.  If it were a MIDI file instead of a good song (my friend is a great songwriter), I’d think I was back in the nineties.  It’s the same on the MySpace pages of two other people I used to know, whose MySpace pages I found in the chaos that passes for Friends and Comments at the bottom of my buddy’s page.

There are blog-like elements to a MySpace page.  Clicking on “subscribe to this blog” is not one of them, however, as that leads to yet another page stating that you have to be a “member” to do that.  Stalwart potential subscribers can click over to the “View All Blog Entries” page where there is an actual RSS link- where you get short partial feeds.  A lot of work for very little return.

Friends and Comments.  Where to start.  There are a ton of pictures at the bottom of the page.  Some of them are called Comments, but the format screams Guestbook.  Then there are the Friends, that mythical connection that is supposed to make MySpace the great community.  Leaving the cubist-like formatting aside for a moment, you can only have Friends who have MySpace accounts- a symptom of the AOL-era closed system.  And based on the lists I saw on the pages I visited, the only requirement for Friendship is fame or asking to be listed.

Jimmy Buffett has 106,637  MySpace “friends.”  If that’s a social network, then the phone book is a social network.

It makes Twitter seem like a family reunion.

I also spent some time on the MySpace pages of another songwriter I know.  His page is slightly less ugly and less user friendly.

There’s a pictures link.  That leads back to the main MySpace page.

There’s a videos link.  That leads to an empty page.

There’s another jumble of Friends and Comments.  For me to poop on.

Let’s summarize the devastation.  Horrible layout. Ugly design.  Music playing automatically.  Hundreds of so-called Friends, many of them famous people who happen to have a MySpace page.  I’m not feeling the community.

Particularly when you can go to any number of blogging services, get a free blog with a template that is not migraine producing and be up and running within minutes.  No html required.  And if you want to link to famous people, you can still do it.   Here’s a link to Roger McGuinn.  Here’s one to Lloyd Cole.  Here’s one to Steve Rubel.

I think the social networking closed site as online Mecca story is a myth driven by people who want to keep the content producing public behind the walls so they can make money off of the content they produce.

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Jimmy Wales on MySpace

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, says that MySpace will fail in a few years, though he does appreciate the momentum behind online communities.

He agrees with me that MySpace pages are ugly, saying that they hurt his eyes.  He goes on to say “there’s way too much advertising and they’re not really respecting their own community.”  Once again, that sounds a lot like Geocities.

I don’t know if MySpace will die, but I absolutely believe its relevance will diminish over time.  It has huge relevance now because it has so much of the young mindshare in this country- mindshare that advertisers covet.  Mindshare is ferae naturae, however, and no one can lay claim to it.  Just ask AOL.

His comments about MySpace come at the end of an interview about the history of Wikipedia and his new open source search engine project.

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Dark Alleys, Dollars and Did She Really Say That?

darkalleyMySpace wants us to stand up and take notice of its new safety initiative.  Is this something meaningful or just more lip service?  Let’s take a look.

The big plan, it seems, is to publish a guide on safety tips, get Seventeen magazine and the National School Board Association to tag along, and put a link to these safety tips at the bottom of every MySpace page.  Oh, and they plan to distribute copies of the guide to schools all over the United States.

Yep, a guide with some safety tips will stop those murderers and pedophiles dead in their tracks.

For one thing, don’t most schools ban MySpace under the so-called MySpace law?  If so, are teachers going to spend time going over how to do safely what students are not permitted to do at all?

This is just more lip service, with some conscripted allies along to muddy the water a little.  I’d love to know the basis on which Seventeen magazine and, particularly, the National School Board Association lent their names to this effort.

In the flurry of lip service one very funny thing happened.  Seventeen magazine’s editor-in-chief opened her mouth and out came these words: “My mom was the person who told me not to walk down the dark alley by myself, not the person who created the dark alley.”

Well, aside from the fact that she just compared MySpace to a dark alley, here are a couple of differences between that dark alley and MySpace that come to mind:

(1) that dark alley doesn’t make millions or billions of dollars by enticing kids to walk down it;

(2) that dark alley isn’t owned and operated by a major media company;

(3) that dark alley is located in some outside place, likely far from home, as opposed to inside every computer in the world.

There are lots more differences, but you get my drift.

I’m all about educating kids.  And I’m all about monitoring what your kids do online.

You can’t expect MySpace, even if it is making millions and billions of dollars, to guarantee a safe environment.  Parents have to monitor and stay actively involved in their kids’ online activities.

But for some company that makes millions or billions of dollars by providing the so-called dark alley to take the position that it’s up to mom to protect the kids from said dark alley…well, that’s just about the most absurd thing I have ever heard.

MySpace should take a few of those millions or billions of dollars and hire hordes of people whose job consists of nothing other than surfing around MySpace all day and night, looking for both potential troublemakers as well as inappropriate content and personal information.

Or maybe require parental approval for people under 18 to sign up.

The dirty little secret, of course, is that if MySpace did all of that, its coveted user base, many of whom think they want a place away from mom and dad where the rules are looser, would cry foul and, perhaps, spend less time clicking those lucrative ads.

The fact remains, however, that parents expect MySpace to do a lot more than it seems willing to do in this regard.  Eventually, the smoke and mirrors will fail and congress and/or lawyers will press the issue.

In sum, you can do a lot more than MySpace seems to be willing to do and still rely on parents to be vigilant. So far, unfortunately, MySpace seems to want to do as little as possible while giving lip service to the problem.


YouTube Wins Again

youtubeFresh from its win over MySpace in my Web 2.0 Wars championship, YouTube turns around and puts it to MySpace again with word that it has passed MySpace in the internet eyeball race, racking up a 3.9% share of internet visits compared to 3.35% for MySpace.

The GU sums it up nicely in a quote from some undoubtedly qualified guy from an almost assuredly important company (that is my tip of the hat to the gesture crowd, who can’t respond to my earlier debunking because (a) there is no valid response and (b) they would be admitting that they follow links if they did so, since they weren’t born with innate knowledge of my post any more that their readers were born with innate knowledge of their URLs):

“YouTube has a far more universal appeal, being pure entertainment with a global appeal.”

Amen, and congratulations to YouTube.

More on the MySpace Law

Dwight Silverman thinks I’m wrong about HR 5319 being a good idea.

Maybe, but here’s my thinking- as succinctly as I can describe it.

Yes, in theory, it would be great to have these decisions made at the local level, as Dwight suggests. The thing is, though, that I simply don’t trust the local educators to make the right decision. Plus, I know that kids are very, very clever when it comes to getting around obstacles to their desires, and if the blocking was done on some ad hoc basis, kids would find a way around it within the first day.

Let’s say it was handled on the local level, and let’s say that the principal at my kids’ school decided that since her kids are so responsible and all, that she would trust them to police themselves. I know that’s not going to work. So what would my choices be? To gut it up and deal with it or yank my kids out of the school they love and move them somewhere else? What if the principal at the new school leaves in a year and the new one changes the policy?

What if changing schools is not financially or geographically feasible?

Again, I simply don’t trust local educators to make the right decision every time. Particular when it comes to technology. And I’m unwilling to cede control to them to that degree, regardless of whether they see things my way or not. If you accept the fact that kids shouldn’t be hanging out on MySpace at school, then there is no compelling argument against HR 5319.

Now, if I could conceive of one good reason why a kid should be on MySpace at school, then maybe I’d have second thoughts. But I can’t. Not for a second.

So while there is some paternalism going on here, on both my and the legislators’ part, the overriding good of protecting our kids far outweighs the mild fear that this is the fist step in some Orwellian plan to take away all of our rights.

Kids shouldn’t be on MySpace at school. Kids don’t always know what’s good for them.

The MySpace Law is a good thing that will make schools safer and more productive for our kids.

P.S. Although I suspect he will line up on Dwight’s side of the debate, I really want to hear Seth Finkelstein‘s thoughts on this.

Update: As he mentioned in a comment, Seth posted his thoughts and, as always, makes a lot of good points. I hadn’t thought of the Republicans vs Fox angle, but that might just prove to be a very interesting by-product of this debate. Having said that, if the vote was 410-15, a bunch of Democrats must have voted for it too.

The MySpace Law is a Good Thing

When I said the other day that “as soon as the parents of the world (and the legislators they vote for) come to understand the risk their kids are taking by putting their lives online, MySpace will come under increasing pressure to become safer,” I didn’t realize when would be now.

Marshall Kirkpatrick writes today about House Resolution 5319. If it becomes a law, HR 5319 will require schools and libraries to block social networking sites and chat rooms.

Marshall, not surprisingly, looks at the issue from the perspective of application developers.

Let me give you the parents’ perspective. Put very simply, is there anyone with two brain cells to rub together who thinks that kids should spend part of their time at school surfing around MySpace?

Of course not.

I will read the resolution and the portions of the Communications Act it seeks to amend tonight, but based on what I have read so far, this is a good thing.

Reason Number 1.a

Why grown men should not be trolling MySpace for girls.

1.a) They might be underage AND rob you at gunpoint.

At some point MySpace is going to have to devise and enact measures to keep its users from lying about their age- both ways.

Here’s my favorite quote from that article:

“He says he has since removed personal information from his MySpace profile, like his salary and the kind of car that he drives.”

That’s a shame. I know the first thing I want to do at every site I visit is to tell people what I drive and how much I make.


Texas AG: MySpace Should Be Safer

My law school buddy and current Texas attorney general Greg Abbott has turned his attention to in the wake of another arrest of an internet predator.

From the Houston Chronicle article:

“Abbott said Web sites like MySpace – a social networking hub with more 72 million members – should make it harder to find profiles belonging to underage youth and should use software that automatically scans all uploaded photographic images and blocks those that are pornographic.”

As more and more governmental officials begin to take a hard look at the social networking services, MySpace and its kin should take meaningful and significant action to address this problem, even if it means a loss in user numbers. Because if they don’t address the safety issue in a meaningful and effective way, someone is going to do it for them.

Smoke and mirrors and baby steps aren’t going to satisfy the watchdogs much longer. And once the government gets into your business, it’s hard to get them out. Just ask Microsoft.

Is It Safe? Kids and the New Internet

zellChristian Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Yes, it’s safe, it’s very safe, it’s so safe you wouldn’t believe it.
Christian Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: No. It’s not safe, it’s… very dangerous, be careful.

-Marathon Man (1976)

One of the most effective and creepiest scenes in movie history is the one in Marathon Man in which Laurence Olivier asks Dustin Hoffman that question over and over. Parents ask themselves that question all the time to- about their kids and the internet.

The MySpace Problem

One of the most popular internet sites for young people is, of course, MySpace. For those few who don’t know what MySpace is, you can be sure your teenaged kids know all about it. Here’s the FAQ, but the very short answer is that MySpace is a hugely popular social networking site where users can share photos, journals and interests with their network of friends.

The problem, of course, is that kids often don’t realize the risks of putting too much information about themselves on the internet and the information they put on the internet can be accessed by just about anyone. Friend and predator alike.

The sad reality is that the thing that makes these sites so popular, the prospect of sharing information and making new friends, is the thing that makes them so risky for kids.

MySpace, which was purchased by News Corp, has announced that it is taking measures to make the site safer for teens. Among those measures are the deletion of 200,000 “objectionable” user profiles. The objectionable profiles contained primarily “hate speech” and material gently described by Ross Levinsohn, head of News Corp’s internet division, as “too risque.” Too risque, right. Sadly, our culture blew right past risque in the 70’s.

It’s Really an Internet Problem

Mr. Levinsohn made a good point, however, in the Financial Times article linked above when he said about objectionable content:

It’s a problem that’s endemic to the internet – not just MySpace.

Absolutely, that’s the case. Every parent I talk to struggles with a family internet policy that allows kids to use the internet for its many good uses while avoiding its many bad uses. My kids haven’t locked onto computers and the internet yet, but I have run into problems merely by allowing one of my kids to do a Google image search for cats or bunnies. When my kids start clamoring to use the internet, you can be sure I will have redundant filters and site blockers in place. Not because I think they’ll try to find the bad stuff, but because you can’t help but find the bad stuff because there’s so much of it.

Thank Goodness We Didn’t Have the Internet

Don’t get me wrong, had there been an internet when I was a kid, I would have gone to great measures to find exactly the sort of thing I now want to keep my kids away from. My friends and I collected quite a collection of impermissible contraband back in the day. But what was shocking in the 60’s and early 70’s is on primetime television now (which is why we watch exactly none of it in my house pre-bedtime). The indisputable fact is that there is a ton of stuff on the internet that most right thinking parents find totally unsuitable for their kids. All of this during a time when the internet is as much a part of most teenagers’ lives as the telephone was to ours. And all of this during a time when the internet is all about “social interaction.”

Is There a Solution?

What to do?

First, I believe we have to stop talking about teenagers as if they were in one group for internet purposes. There are many things that an 17, 18 or 19 year old can probably handle that should be completely off limits to a 13 or 14 year old. Nor, candidly, should we encourage 13 to 19 year olds to interact on the internet as social equals.

Additionally, kids learn a lot of stuff a lot faster today than we did back in the 60’s. An 11 or 12 year old today is easily as sophtisticated as a 13-14 year old was back then. The fact that there’s not a teen at the end of his or her age is not a compelling reason why he or she can’t do something like use the internet or chat with a friend.

We need to decide what sites are OK for young children and which sites are not. There must be more than just a single division of web sites. To apply a 19 year old standard to a 13 year old is to ignore the problem, if not promote it. Likewise, to apply a 13 year old standard to a 19 year old is a recipe for non-cooperation and avoidance.

So why aren’t these social networking sites being more proactive about this?

The crossroads comes, as it always does, at the intersection of money and morals.

Sadly, sin sells, both in the real world and the internet. Primetime television, music videos, even cartoons. For a company to do the right thing and prohibit marginal activities is to invite another operator to take that space. It’s an unworkable situation that can only result in a potentially dangerous environment mitigated only by half-hearted measures and lip service.

Which is what this latest MySpace clean-up looks like to me.

Even in Second Life, which I have written about favorably, these issues are a significant problem. Second Life attempts to deal with the “sin” issue by creating a mature filter which if applied is designed to keep users away from the most extreme (read highly sexual) content. I suppose it works a little, but a stroll through the “PG” rated portions of Second Life demonstrates conclusively that there is a very mature element at work. Dance clubs with sexy names and logos, casinos on every corner. Fine for adults, not OK for kids.

Not to mention that you have no way to know that the person who looks like and claims to be a similar-aged kid may in fact be an old man. That is reason enough to keep youngsters away, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

MySpace, Mayberry Style

All of this leads me to two conclusions.

First, my kids won’t be allowed to use MySpace and its ilk, at least until they are in their late teens. Same for Second Life. They may not like it, but I don’t let them wander around any strange place by themselves. Not in first life and not in second.

Second, the social interaction space is screaming for a family-oriented social networking site. MySpace, Mayberry style. Second Life with the Cleavers. Such a site would be welcomed by parents all over the world. I’d write about it weekly.

It would have to be developed by the right person or persons. Not an organization with an agenda to promote. But by a non-denominational organization that wanted to create a safe place for kids and make a little money too. Not greater fool money, but corner market money.

My internet utopia would have 3 age-based zones, each separate and independent from the others. 10-13, 14-16 and 17-19. New users would have to be verified in some meaningful manner by their parents. Parents would also be verified and would serve as volunteer safety officers- with the ability to report violations and to exclude their own kids from activities, but not the ability to interact directly in the virtual community.

Perhaps there would be a way to create private invitation-only sub-communiti
es. I’d gladly set something like that up for my kids and their friends. Then I and the other parents could police it to keep order and make sure there are no interlopers.

Maybe something like that exists, but I’ve never heard of it.

As our kids get older and the internet gets more ingrained in our lives, it will become important to develop a family internet policy that allows our kids to enjoy the wonder of the internet while protecting them from it’s darker side.

I hope someone will be up to the challenge. I’ll certainly help any way I can.