When browsing through the curious realms of the Internet, many find the need to partake and express themselves in the online world of abstract rules. While most of us do not have the skills to make our own websites, others get paid to do just that. Since the Internet became an open media for the public, many different ways of web communication have been born. The IRC was very popular a few years ago, and blogging has become quite the necessity. Not everyone likes to blog though, most people like to stay in touch in a lot less formal way. With a generation of savvy users, the demand for a sophisticated network increased – Friendster gained a level of notoriety but nothing prepared the world for the imminent web-domination of MySpace.
MySpace catered to the needs of individuals of modest computer skills. One could easily register and get a page without having to understand mark-up languages like HTML. One could visit another website and choose a layer over the original webpage and thus personalize it by copying a code into the administrative part of one’s profile. The majority of MySpace users didn’t have a clue what they were doing, but with the help of YouTube and similar sites, many learned that they could easily copy codes and move them around the Internet with good results. The fact that this is possible makes MySpace charming, but also hard to work with. Profiles with dozens of pictures, videos and/or music players use up a lot of bandwidth and are hard to open in a short amount of time. This also puts a strain on the MySpace server. Most users have at one time or another been greeted with the message: “Sorry! an unexpected error has occurred. This error has been forwarded to MySpace’s technical group.”
Technical problems are not the only ones facing MySpace. The web-community has encountered yet another contestant for the love of the everyday surfer. Facebook has arrived. With standardized layouts and no possibilities of importing HTML or CSS to change the appearance of the profiles, Facebook manages to keep its customers happy and speedily updated. Facebook doesn’t allow its users to control as much as they could on MySpace and keeps the process of communication far lighter on its system. In turn, they are not only stealing MySpace users, they are also reaching a new crowd.
Easy does it
Facebook fans aren’t necessarily avid Internet users. Many of them are regular people, some very afraid of computers. They’ve been invited to join the community through one of their daily e-mail joking friends and found it pleasingly simple. A friend of mine said “I found MySpace way too hard, I was scared that I would do something wrong.” Of course I know that MySpace isn’t all that difficult to manage, as I’ve been a user for a while. That doesn’t mean everyone feels the same way.
The terror of doing something wrong with computers is very common. Many people I know are terrified of installing programs or running Ad-Aware. It is a relief for them to find a web community that doesn’t rely on this kind of knowledge in such an obvious way. In my heyday as a MySpace user, I found many problems without solutions. After reading through their manuals and sending countless emails only to get standardized replies, I realized that few problems would be fixed on MySpace unless a lot of people had enough of them. In a social network system that counts 189 million users, it’s hard to have a voice.
Spam is death
Spamming has become a huge problem on MySpace. But the bigger problem is that the users of MySpace know so little about what they are doing that they don’t do anything to prevent it from spreading. Comments filled with ringtone ads, Macy’s gift cards and invitations to see who’s clicking on your profile are terrorizing users everywhere. The bulletin board is filled with sex ads and ringtones. Sometimes users receive these ads in messages from friends who don’t realize they’ve been hacked and need to change their passwords so they’ll stop sending others spam. Facebook is blissfully rid of all these problems. What’s even better is the fact that, at least until now, Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, refuses to sell his company to big investors. Not only does he gain respect from the users of his system but his peers as well. Unlike the owners of YouTube and MySpace, the owner of Facebook hasn’t caved in to the money men. Not yet.
Not selling out?
In return, the users of Facebook find a web community with fewer ads, less viruses and spam problems and a broader spectrum of users. In May, Zuckerberg opened the Facebook system so that other software developers could contribute to his system. These applications can now be added to a Facebook profile if one chooses to do so. Most of the applications modify the profiles to show what type of books/music/films the user likes.
The loud music promotion of MySpace is not to be found on Facebook. Most applications don’t even provide full songs. The colourful sites are not there and the only thing that makes a site worth seeing is a picture of the owner and the amount of information he or she cares to share with the world. Privacy is restricted to geography of networks and anyone can close their profile to strangers in a similar way MySpace users can.
Whatever the purpose, both sites have their venue but I find that my friends on Facebook are not quite the same friends I have on MySpace. Still, I have a feeling that my Icelandic friend count is growing fast.