MySpace is a community site that allows you to setup a profile and blog and connect with friends and strangers. It’s also a designer’s and lover of design’s worst nightmare because the UI of the site is atrocious yet it boasts 17 million visitors a month (and rising) and was recently purchased for over $580 million by News Corp.
From a design perspective we have to look at it as a failure, but obviously it’s not. Why is that? Why hype ugliness? I will try my best to analyze (if you could call it that) what makes MySpace so popular and how we all could learn to follow in its footsteps.
Let’s cut straight to the chase. The community is what makes MySpace. If you ask someone why they are on MySpace 9 times out of 10 you will get this reply:
That’s where all my friends are.
This is the same reason why people usually only use Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger or AIM (yes I know there are apps that allow the usage of all 3 at once). If you get the community then you win the game. Ask eBay and Flickr. The toughest part about being a new player in the arena isn’t convincing users that your site is better, it’s convincing them to leave their existing community to start all over again.
But how do you get into the minds of the masses? First I would suggest you read Malcolm Gladwell’s classic The Tipping Point for a better understanding of how events reach critical mass. In any case you have to reach the so-called Connectors in the community. Blinksale did this perfectly. If you don’t know who the Connectors are then you don’t know your audience.
Great design trumps horrible design because it makes things appear to work easier. Trying to navigate the MySpace UI is frustrating at best. So why does it work? Besides the community I think it’s the fact that you can customize your pages and if you explore the community you will see some crazy designs going on. 90% of them you can’t even read the content, but people love it.
My best guess is that it follows the eBay design model. My theory is that eBay was a success due to its crappy design because it gave it that flea market feel and when you went there you felt like you getting a deal. Go to Tiffany & Co. and you don’t get the feeling that you are getting a bargain because you shouldn’t.
What’s the point I was making? Not sure, but the design sucks them in. In a way it also causes a bit of lock-in. Once you learn the interface that is time invested that you don’t want to lose. That’s why many people will never leave MovableType because they understand how it works inside and out.
I would definitely love to hear your opinion on this one. Do you think crappy design has its place and can sometimes trump quality design in forming large communities? Or is this space still ripe for someone to do it right for once?
Okay really, why is it popular?
It empowers people to get their message out and make connections. That’s the only way I can put it. Same reason why Xanga, FaceBook and LiveJournal are crazy popular. Get a community together where people can communicate easily and you have yourself a winner. Ask Amazon.
Besides all of that, the site sucks and I never use it, but I know that doesn’t matter much when I can enter a club and the first question out of a woman’s mouth is:
Are you on MySpace?
Happens more times then you would think…
In other news: A certain Dutch designer has risen from the dead and I have a feeling he will be writing a bit more along with bringing out a new design.