I've recently finally joined MySpace and created my own "space". I've looked a little at them before when they've been in the news, but I never really thought much of it. The funny thing is that even now that I have created my own "space", I still don't think much of it. I suppose its possible that I'm just too old to really "get it", but I don't think that's the case. My problem with MySpace is that its just NOT a very user-friendly community site at all.
First, the layout is not at all personalizable -- like it or not, you get a single page with two columns with fixed content. The left column has a brief overview of your details with your picture, info on how to contact you, your details which are your answers to a fixed set of questions, your school information, and a few other things depending on what information you provide. The right column has a very limited blog summary, whether you use it or not, your detailed responses to a fixed set of more general questions, your friends, and comments. There is no way to move things from one column to another, reorder the position of items in columns, add new content that doesn't fit their categories, or add new columns or pages. In some cases if you don't supply the content then its entire area won't display, but in many cases you are still stuck with the content area even if you don't supply the content, and everyone gets this silly box at the top of their right column that says they are in your extended network or their profile is private.
There is also no built-in way to change the look and feel of your space, beyond just adding raw CSS in one of your response areas, and the site was obviously not originally developed with that intent either. Now it is true that using CSS you can get a lot of customization, but my point is that there is no simple way to pick a set of colors or other look and feel properties, so everyone has to use CSS. And while things can be made to "work" using CSS to a large extent, its not been setup with classes in the majority of cases to make this easy -- instead my CSS is changing properties for table, table table, table table table, table table table table, things like that -- very ugly. Luckily there are plenty of other sites that have grown up around MySpace that give you the ability to specify what you want and then generate the CSS for you, but that's obviously not part of MySpace itself so its a really bizarre process for most users. This may have been sufficient if MySpace had been created 10 years ago, but its pretty laughable that any community minded site would be built like this in the last 5 years.
So why is MySpace so popular? The answer to that question is also why I decided to join -- everyone else is already on MySpace. I'm not sure how it managed to grow to this point in the past, but that's irrelevant now that everyone is there. In my case, I found every single one of my nieces and nephews that are old enough to be on MySpace, so whether I like it or not, it is the best way to keep in touch and see what they are up to.
Are there any lessons to be learned here? Not really for the most part, I just thought I'd share my findings for all the older generation techies. The only other thing I can say is that MySpace is a good example of why even though you should keep things "simple", you should also do things "right" when its easy to do. What do I mean by that? Maybe you don't need personalization in your first release, but you should at least use CSS in a good way so that it won't be hard to add later. By not having done that at an early stage, MySpace is now very much stuck since changing their layout now would completely break thousands of existing user "spaces" that work due to the hacks that have been identified and applied. So while you should keep things "simple", that should not be an excuse for sloppiness and spaghetti code -- you still should want to do things "right". On the other hand, I seriously doubt that any of these other sites that are trying to do it right now will succeed in replacing MySpace due to everyone already being on MySpace -- unless MySpace messes up and breaks existing "spaces".