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Research Report by Garnet Hertz
(created 5/15/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Online Reading and Society, Social Networking Systems

Original Object for Study description

MySpace, as one of the top five most popular English-language websites in the world, is an increasingly influential part of teen popular culture in North America. As of March 2006, MySpace was more popular than the websites of CNN, The New York Times, and Amazon, and – unlike “the news” – MySpace embodies an emerging breed of Internet communication in which individuals both create and consume content, freely blend text, images, video and audio, and easily transition between online and real-world social interaction.

MySpace was founded in July 2003 by UC Berkeley and UCLA alumnus Tom Anderson, and has quickly amassed 76 million registered users (as of April 2006) to become the fifth most popular English-language website in the world and the most popular social networking site on the Internet.

MySpace initially began as a website for independent musicians to promote themselves and their music by creating free band profile pages. Public users could log in, listen to music clips, view band photos, read their blogs, subscribe to receive special messages from them, and leave comments for them in a publicly viewable guestbook on their profile page. Registered individuals also received free profile pages with many of the same features and functionality as band’s profiles.

As the site quickly grew, many individuals began to use MySpace as a form of socialization between other users, not just bands. Due to its immense popularity and devoted group of users, several major label musicians, businesses and celebrities have created and maintain profiles on MySpace.

The MySpace community varies widely, but specific themes of self-expression seem to be common through much of the online community. Profiles often display personal information, quickly written text segments, semi-private conversations between individuals, and sexually-oriented images and comments. MySpace, in some respects, resembles a bar filled with teenagers and twenty-somethings checking each other out, passing notes to each other, and sharing their thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes in the process.

Recognizing its significance within the youth demographic, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought MySpace in July 2005 for $580 million, with the company currently employing 250 people with projected revenues of $20 million for 2006.

Research Context:
MySpace is of significance to the study of online reading, especially within a teen and college-age demographic. This online community is an excellent case of how online reading is integrally intertwined with writing, socialization, photography, design, appropriation, audio and video. MySpace also emphasizes shifts in how western youth culture draws few lines of distinction between online and real-world social contexts, and freely blends personal and private communication.

Technical Analysis:

Creating a MySpace Profile
When creating an account on MySpace, one is asked to provide some information to help construct and start the user’s own profile page. Users are asked to provide their name, age, a photo of themselves, a description of their interests, and to write short descriptions about themselves: an “About Me” and a “I’d like to meet” blurb. With the click of a button, the user gets their free profile/homepage.

After the initial set-up, users can customize their pages by uploading more photos, video clips, writing blog/journal entries and “adding” or interlinking friends to their profile.

Friend Lists
Linking between friends is a major function of MySpace: each profile includes a display of how many linked friends someone has within the MySpace system, a list with icons of their “Top” friends, and a link to request to have someone mutually “added” as being a friend. Being on someone’s friends list gives you special access to leave public comments on someones profile (much like a guestbook), view blog/journal entries that someone has declared as “for friends only”, or to leave public comments on specific images they have uploaded.

MySpace allows for considerable modification of one’s own profile by inserting HTML code into the profile. This code—either self-created or pre-fabricated—gives users the ability to feature custom backgrounds, layouts, text colors, typefaces, embedded video, music and animations. In addition to this, users can modify their friend’s profiles by leaving comments in their guestbook, which often include a mixture of text, photos, or even videos or audio. The end result is often a mixed mash-up of text and media, often produced by teenagers with little formal knowledge of programming, user interface design or digital media. MySpace, in many respects, acts as an entry point into the worlds of HTML programming, digital photography and manipulation, blogging, and other forms of digital media.

Traffic and Popularity
MySpace, as of May 2006, is more popular than CNN.com, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft.com, Wikipedia, AOL and NYTimes.com. Because of its popularity, some organizations have started to limit use of the website due to a multitude of reasons, including the consumption of excessive bandwidth, the spreading of malicious gossip, or—in some cases—reducing physical violence blamed to be incited by activity on MySpace. Currently, several public libraries in the US and the UK ban the use of the site, as well as a handful of schools and retail stores with Internet-connected computers. Network administrators at Del Mar Community College in Texas estimated that MySpace was consuming 40% of the college’s daily Internet bandwidth, causing severe strain on their ability to effectively deliver online courses.

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Project:
To begin with, MySpace illustrates “Web 2.0”: a space in which online reading is intertwined with online writing, other forms of digital media, and socialization. Although the scope of the Transliteracies project is focused on online reading, the limitation of range is problematic: the popular spreading of blogs, social networking sites like MySpace, and the ability for readers of several “standard” news-type websites to comment and discuss articles presents a shift in the concept of online reader. Although reading which does not involve authorship still exists online, a fresh breed of reading/writing appears to be gaining a significant role in specific demographic groups.

Resources for Further Study:

Points for Expansion:
There are dozens of different social networking sites that each have interesting things to say about reading online. For an excellent list of different sites, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites

There are numerous points of expansion within the topic of MySpace. One of the interesting yet morbid offshoots that I’ve found is MyDeathSpace.com: “Your global resource for MySpace.com member obituaries”. In other words, this website maintains an index of MySpace users that have recently died, collects news stories about how the people died, and allows people to comment on each entry/death. This project highlights how many MySpace profiles fill up with comments of remembrance and shock by friends and family. For a direct listing of obituaries, see http://www.mydeathspace.com/deaths.aspx.

  tl, 02.26.06

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