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« The one thing Gordon Brown should do | Main | Green Friday. Or, synesthesia. »
Monday
Jun252007

Facebook - the new Myspace?

Facebook - the new Myspace?
Facebook really seems to be 'on the up' at the moment. People I know who would never have set up a Myspace page now have a page on Facebook (including, incredibly, my girlfriend). Why is this?

I think there are four main reasons, to do with the new 'acceptibility' of social networking, Facebook's interface, its general trendiness right now and the rise of broadband.

Acceptibility of Social Networking
Until fairly recently, I think that most people approached sites like Myspace and Facebook with a degree of trepidation - either because they perceived them as being havens for weirdos (and lets face it, they are) or internet dating sites (which have less of a stigma attached to them these days, but a lot of people still don't want to be seen resorting to to the net to find love). Increasingly however, social networking sites have become part of the internet mainstream, and people are less scared to use them. Facebook seems to have come along at just the right time in this respect - it's the new kid on the block just when social networking has been deemed by society as an acceptable thing to engage in.

Facebook's interface
Facebook's interface probably also has a lot to do with the sudden explosion in its popularity. Firstly, Facebook pages are arguably less 'threatening' than Myspace pages, because they are not (yet) so customisable. A lot of people personalise their Myspace pages to the extent that they become offputting, either due to the nature of the content or the fact that the content (multiple images, videos, tracks) takes so long to download. Secondly, the Facebook system makes it extremely easy for people to scan their address books for people they know who already use Facebook; consequently, more and more people start using Facebook to communicate with their friends, in the process generating a reason to return to it.

Facebook is trendy
As mentioned above, Facebook is the new kid on the block, and new kids on the block usually get a lot of interest - for five minutes at least! Facebook is, quite simply, trendy; and when you combine trendiness with the "viralness" of the whole social networking medium, you have a potent formula for success.

Broadband
More and more people are getting broadband - at last count 55% of UK households had broadband access (and this is a figure that's rising). People now have the capability and desire to upload and share large content (videos, songs, images) in a way that was hitherto impossible or very difficult - and social networking sites provide an ideal medium for this. Again, Facebook is in the right place at the right time - it's the social networking site du choix at a time when more and more people are signing up to broadband.

Which is better, though?
I think that given all the above, it's easy to see why Facebook is on the up: it's a good product and trendy, operating in a 'viral' medium at a time when social networking and broadband usage are on the up - a bit of a no-brainer. But is it better than Myspace?

If I had my musician's hat on, I'd say no. Myspace is currently better for musicians for two main reasons - the song player is dead easy use, and probably more importantly, Myspace is associated more with new music. Consequently, a lot of music industry people use it to search for new acts, and music fans use it to 'try before they buy.' Also, whilst the level of customisation that Myspace offers can lead to some terrible, terrible pages, it is nice to have that facility - I can, for example, 'brand' my site in a way that matches my website and other marketing material. The key thing is to be sensible about customisation - don't overload the user with so much content that they can't access the page.

Also, from a 'selling stuff' point of view, Myspace is arguably better - because Myspace lets its users put lines of HTML code into their pages, organisations can encourage their 'friends' to put banner ads for products and services directly into their pages - at no cost. This arguably works better for the not-for-profit sector than big business, because people are more likely to identify with a cause than a particular product (and consequently want to promote it). The two main types of banners that I've seen on Myspace which individuals have put on their pages are ads for charities and for bands, both of which tend to evoke stronger feelings and affiliations than say, Fairy Liquid.

But as a social networking user, I'd argue that Facebook has more to offer. It's generally simpler to operate, and the news feeds that it provides let you 'keep tabs' on what your friends are up to. An example of this is the nice little 'status update' feature - a one-liner that you can broadcast to your friends, telling them what mood you're in, whether you've just had a cup of tea etc. I suppose this has a slightly sinister side to it too - your privacy goes out the window a bit, although in theory you can choose what exactly you share with people. In practice however, it's a godsend for the obsessed...and the site hasn't earned the nickname 'Stalkbook' for nothing. But it is fun.

For me though, there's one thing which makes me infinitely prefer Facebook to Myspace: it isn't owned by Rupert Murdoch. Yet.

Chris Singleton now has a Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2348827711. Feel free to join it.

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