I’ve just been reading these two really excellent pages about the amateur aesthetic of the internet for my class on the History of Software and Networks, and I stumbled across yet another reference to the danah boyd article on the class divisions between MySpace and Facebook. I’ve been running into and away from this discussion for a long time now, so I figure it’s finally time to chip in with my opinion.
As a web-savvy “digital native”, of course I joined MySpace back in the day when everyone was doing it. And then I didn’t use it very much. And then Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace and I left, since I wasn’t using it anyway and was creeped out by this new development. And then I joined again because I went to Jamaica where, lo-and-behold, everyone and their mother was on MySpace. Now I’m back to not using it very much, except for the occasional message to Jamaican friends. In short, I am one of those “teens [who exclusively use Facebook], are very aware of MySpace, and often have a negative opinion about it.”
But while I recognize that boyd’s article has some really solid points, something still bugs me as weird. Maybe it’s just because I’m uncomfortable being called out on my virtual equivalent of choosing Pottery Barn over a thrift store–after all, like any other good-spirited college student and participatory culture supporter I aspire to be someone who appreciates the noisy/smelly/loud/bright authenticity of the streets, and as a Harvard student I’m particularly sensitive to accusations that I’m a lofty arrogant academic looking down on everyone from the Ivory Tower. Anyway, today I think I finally pinpointed the source of my discomfort: the idea that just because MySpace and Facebook are both social networking software, they’re made (and used) for the same thing.
For starters, let’s just look at the names. Myspace: a space that is mine, on the internet. When you are visiting my profile you are visiting my space. My space. My space to meet&greet friends, my space to declare who I am to the world, even my space to play the music I like and look at pictures I like. It’s like my room: everything in the space is controlled by me.
Facebook, on the other hand, is a direct spinoff of the college “facebook”–a handy little directory you get with everyone’s faces on it, along with their names and basic information–indeed THE Facebook has almost entirely replaced Harvard’s own official facebook. A facebook is used by people to attach faces to names, or to look up where someone lives.
If I had to summarize the difference between the two, I would say that MySpace is a network for online social identities, while Facebook acts more like an online representation of existing social networks. Of course, there is considerable overlap, but these are the purposes for which the two are designed, and subsequently design choices–like aesthetics, capabilities, and of course, user bases–reflect these two purposes. Facebook has a clean interface not necessarily because rich kids don’t like to make a mess, but because embedded video and tiling gifs are really kind of a large impediment when you’re just trying to find someone’s number or figure out what time a party is. It’s not like MySpace doesn’t know how or doesn’t have the resources to clean up (ahem, Murdoch)–rather, it recognizes that your internet room should be your castle, and you can force your visitors to listen to your music if you want to.
Of course, it should be said that these motivations are sort of divided on class lines. (Mostly rich) College students are more likely to need a directory for finding their other mostly-rich college friends than a place to express themselves–they have their dorm rooms and, more than likely, access to webspace elsewhere. But this is really, to me, a case of comparing apples to oranges. Maybe there are sociological differences as to why members of one socio-economic class choose one fruit over the other, but only one of them is a citrus.