There have been countless explanations given as to why Myspace experienced a rapid and catastrophic collapse in 2011, including things like “there was too much spam and phishing going on” and “Facebook was just more hip and trendy, so young folks flocked to it”.
From my own personal experience, it was a sudden disabling of tools and features which had made it valuable as a networking site that quickly turned it from a vibrant and active community to a barren and desolate digital wasteland.
Myspace was a big deal on the cusp of early web 2.0 for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it was an easily customizable free website with a built in address book and music player. Of course some folks would abuse this by embedding the most obnoxious stuff, cramming their page with glittering weed leaves and dancing babies, bringing mid-decade browsers to a crawl, but this versatility allowed a very important user-base an extensive set of tools that had not been available previously-independent musicians and promoters.
Suddenly, every band that had any recordings could have them online, on unique pages, their fans could put listen to and download new tracks, share them by putting them on their own pages, and musicians and fans could stay in touch.
More importantly, Myspace allowed bands to tag themselves by up to three genres. Fans, promoters and labels could do something really neat: they could search for and browse bands within specific genres in specific regions, listen to their music and quickly get in touch. If a promoter needed to fill a slot in a show, they could quickly search by the genre and location to find a band that would be a good fit, lived in the area, gauge their fanbase and get in touch to work out details.
Several of the albums I put out via Retro Virus Records were assembled in this way – Fuck Your Scene Vol.s 1 & 2, Mundus Patet and The Worst Music Dracula Ever Heard* were largely put together by browsing bands and saying “Hey, interested in being on a comp?” Shows, and music fests I organized were filled in a similar manner, as were shows and music fests put on by friends and fellow musicians. But all of this came to a screeching halt in 2011.
The brass and interface developers at Myspace were more concerned about the growing popularity of Facebook than the needs of their most active userbase. Ironically, when UI changes were made to make Myspace have more of a Facebook-like feel, rather than listen to the complaints of users who’d said they’d stayed with Myspace because they didn’t LIKE Facebook, they ran off in their own direction. Now, what I am absolutely certain killed Myspace was when they removed the ability to browse band pages by genre and state/country. One day, the most important networking feature for the most active users who’d been keeping Myspace anchored was gone. Musicians could no longer easily find out what bands were in their own area, and promoters could no longer use Myspace as a tool to find area talent and organize events. Some folks stuck around for awhile because of connections they’d already made, but making new connections had become difficult. Many of us would’ve gladly taken twice as many of those awful Selena Gomez ads on the login screen if you’d at least let us quickly search for punk bands in this or that state to ask if you could get on a show or crash at their place when you came into town, assuring them they had a floor to sleep on if they ever came your way. The next thing you knew, the only music that was easy to find was insipid big-name pop whose labels had shelled out money to have them shoved into our faces.
The community began to crumble at an alarming pace. Accounts became abandoned as Myspace ceased to have much to offer independent musicians and promoters. Worse, a message through Myspace was no longer a viable way to get in touch with musicians, promoters or venues, because people weren’t logging in anymore. Music collectives and digital scenes died, seemingly overnight. One of the most fascinating and exciting music projects I ever had the privilege of being involved with, which had taken the old Myspace platform and turned it into a comprehensive piece of audio-visual artwork, suddenly had the rug pulled out from under it – while Gl1tchg0r3* could survive an inimical split from their record label, it could not survive the total overhaul of the Myspace platform.
And Myspace could’ve survived without the camgirls, the survey girls, grandma and grampa, would-be poets and authors, and folks with the weed leaves and dancing babies as a top notch site catering to and connecting professionals and amateurs in the music industry, but it could not survive as a viable networking platform that lacked the feature of competitors (and was structurally unable to support them) while they ripped out the existing tools and features that had been necessary for its power-users. By the time News Corp sold in mid 2011, the site had been run into ground, selling for less than a tenth of what they had paid for it six years earlier. Though Myspace has somehow trudged on like a hungry ghost, with a small fraction of its userbase and acting as a ‘plug-in’ music service, it is definitely not the Myspace that was. And sadly I don’t know that there will ever be anything quite like it again. That’s my take, based on what I observed as a highly active user of the platform, on why Myspace turned into a zombie site.
*Though the Dracula comp came out in Fall 2011, it was put together the prior year. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that by early spring of 2011, I’d migrated fully to Facebook with only a token presence on Myspace, partly out of nostalgia and things like Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tuti leaving comments on my page from back when a comment on social media was a bit less of a casual thing.
**I’ve been meaning to talk about Gl1tchg0r3 in a full post for some time. Maybe later this week or next.