Myspace Carves Out Niche Via Music and Easing Privacy Worries

The old social media site gets a face lift and tries to start a new, pop-focused life.

A Jan. 9, 2012 file photo released by Panasonic shows Myspace investor Justin Timberlake during Panasonic's news conference at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Myspace is trying to stage yet another comeback with the help of investor Justin Timberlake.

Myspace investor Justin Timberlake during Panasonic's news conference at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., where he announced a partnership to deliver MySpace TV content exclusively to Panasonic SmartViera HDTV's.

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They say that looks can only get you so far, and the new Myspace Web site may be the epitome of that sentiment. The former social media titan has unveiled its sleek new look, but the question is exactly where it fits in a crowded social media landscape.

The new design makes the site more explicitly music-focused, and it does so with a minimalist new design. There's no scrolling up and down; the site has more of a tablet-friendly, Windows 8 feel, with side-to-side scrolling through tiles of trending stories and updates from bands. Users can also simply start typing a band's name at any point, bringing up a search screen that presents albums, artists, and songs. With these new tools, users can seek out new music, follow artists, build playlists, and connect with each other. "Connecting" with an artist plugs a user in to a feed of the band's updates.

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But those are things that anyone can already do by having Spotify open in one window and Twitter or Facebook open in another. It's not entirely clear what space the new Myspace is trying to fill among its competitors. When users can already connect and listen to music elsewhere, in other words, one more social network may be too many for people who are already bombarded by updates on Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Once upon a time, Myspace was a wildly popular social media site, far outstripping Facebook in popularity as recently as 2008. But the site saw its popularity slide in part due to Facebook luring users away. Myspace also took a hit in early 2009 when the company removed 90,000 sex offenders from its rolls, hurting its image.

Still, there is hope for the new Myspace. One of the site's features that may prove most attractive is buried more than halfway through the site's lengthy terms of use: loose privacy rules. Unlike its largest competitor Facebook, Myspace allows alias accounts, as well as fake or parody accounts, like the popular @FakeAPStyle Twitter account. (In other words, get ready for @FakeBarryManilow or @NottheRealSlimShady).

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In addition, the new site does not appear concerned with users creating unique, detailed profile pages, as they do on Facebook and as they did on the first Myspace incarnation. The new Myspace doesn't even ask for personal information beyond a few basics like birthdate, sex, and a 150-character-maximum self-description.

"This new Myspace offers a higher degree of anonymity than the previous iterations of the site or than Facebook offers. I haven't seen any signs of it being particularly aggressively data-invasive," says Andrea Matwyshyn, an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton Business School at University of Pennsylvania. "They're positioning themselves with this privacy-friendly paradigm in opposition to Facebook."

And, implicitly, says Matwyshyn, this is also a challenge to Spotify, where users do much of their connecting via Facebook.

Currently, Myspace is ranked 214 in the world among all websites, according to web metrics service Alexa. That puts it just ahead of music streaming service Pandora, at 281, and well behind Twitter, at No. 10, and Facebook, at No. 2.

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Privacy concerns have grown in recent years, in part driven by Facebook's periodic changes to its privacy policies, which have often caught users by surprise, spurring angry backlash as users discovered that information they thought was private was actually public.

There are a few more things that Myspace still has going for it. Some of the most voracious consumers of new music, teenagers, have likely never used Myspace and therefore may be more likely to adopt it, free of the notion that the site is a Facebook also-ran. And while the site may never again best Facebook in popularity as it did in the mid-2000s, it may cultivate serious niche appeal, inspiring loyalty among people who specifically are interested in the music scene, particularly more obscure, indie bands.