“Imagine what the room would be like if Andy Warhol, Liz Taylor, and Stanley Kubrick all got together,” Justin Timberlake said yesterday. “What was that conversation like? What type of collaboration did that breed? And how can we make that happen?” The answer, he hopes, is the new Myspace.
Thursday, a small group of journalists were invited to the sleek SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to preview the beta version of Myspace. Chris and Tim Vanderhook, COO and CEO of Myspace, want to be very clear that the new site is not a relaunch. It’s something new. It’s something that we haven’t seen before. And yes, Justin “Sean Parker” Timberlake is a key figure.
The public has only seen glimpses of Chris and Tim from the few interviews they have given over the past year, and the flashy trailer that zooms through the musical tastes, photos, and connections of the floppy haired, safely hip, Ben Whishaw-lite “David Croft.” But it still wasn’t very clear exactly what the new Myspace had to offer.
After a few hours interacting with the Vanderhooks, their designers, technicians, product managers, the site itself, and, yes, even Justin Timberlake, Myspace still feels like a bit of an enigma. But that’s because it’s very much still in development. I did learn a few things, though. I was never a Myspace user, but we were told that even though they built the site from scratch, they kept two nostalgic features — the top eight, and the profile song. Other than that, well, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Individuals have a simple homepage with a profile and cover photo, but the site was clearly set up to encourage browsing outside of your own universe. Liking, Subscribing, Friending, and Following have all been combined into one term and one action — Connecting — whether it’s to Fiona Apple, your best friend from the second grade, or a playlist that happened to look appealing. Just because someone connects to you, doesn’t mean you have to connect back. And connect is a less charged word than some of its contemporaries.
Though signing up for a new interactive site always requires a bit of a learning curve, Tim and Chris are certain that after a few days, it will become intuitive. So what is there to do on Myspace? You can scroll across your own stream that includes updates from everything and everyone you’ve connected to. You can look at your connections and hover over their photos to see your “affinity” (sort of like an OkCupid compatibility rating, except platonic and based on music tastes). You can create mixtapes that include songs, videos, and photos. You can go to the Discovery tab where you’ll find music and videos that can be sorted in various ways, including by most popular, recommended for you, and newest releases. Or you can search for something specific, which is perhaps the coolest feature of the new Myspace — when you want to search for anything, you can just start blindly typing. No mouse moves, no scrolling. You type, and your search begins.
It’s easy enough to use, and it looks great. Everything is horizontal to mimic the layout of a magazine. Songs and videos and playlists will continue playing as you navigate the site, and you can easily drag a song to a playlist, no matter what page you’re on. Design was a top priority. And so were artists, which starts to explain why Timberlake is one of the top three at Myspace next to Chris and Tim Vanderhook.
Myspace has a long history of supporting licensed artists and helping new, unlicensed artists get discovered. In our small roundtable, Chris and Tim said that they wanted to give artists a single home because being on six or seven social sites was too confusing and too taxing. On the new Myspace, they can share their music, they can connect with fans, and they can put forth their own vision of the world through multimedia mixtapes.
Timberlake said it “blurred the lines” between the artist and the fan. Say you “connect” with a song, and because of you, 300 of your friends listen to it and connect to it as well. Myspace will track that, and, if you’re particularly influential amongst your connections with a certain artist, you may just see your profile photo on the artists homepage as a “top fan.” This is supposed to be a perk. Timberlake compared it to spotting the most enthusiastic fan in the crowd at the Staples Center and inviting them up on stage with him. Maybe some people will like that. It seems a little creepy to me.
Along these lines, Myspace will incentivize artists to become part of the community by providing analytics on who is listening to their music — ages, gender, location, tendencies. They’ll also connect artists to one another. Justin Timberlake will be able to see if his fans are just as inclined to listen to him as they are to Kendrick Lamar, and maybe that will result in a collaboration.
The current universe of music on the site is expansive, but it’s no Spotify yet, and that’s mostly due to licensing issues. When trying to create some mixes for myself, I found many of the songs I was looking for, but Adele’s Skyfall theme and Grizzly Bear’s Shields, for example, were nowhere to be found.
Also, the site feels a little hermetically sealed right now. The only content that you’ll have access to is what’s been created by their own editorial team. And the “popularity” of certain albums and songs has been mysteriously determined under the site’s terms. This was done intentionally. Tim said that they didn’t want to “build the entire web.”
Eventually, though, you will be able to share outside links and articles.There was even talk of allowing sites like Pitchfork and other trusted and established voices to create pages and playlists — services that Spotify users have already come to depend on. The site is still growing though and deals are still being made. Nothing about this iteration of Myspace is sacred, and everything is subject to change.
For those of you who are current Myspace users, you will have to create a new profile. You can use your old login, but there will be two sites operating simultaneously for a little while. The idea of creating a whole new presence for yourself online is always a little daunting — finding all the songs you like and all the people you’re already connected to on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and everywhere else. Or it could be a fresh start. Admit it, you don’t know half the people who show up on your Facebook feed these days.
“The Internet became boring,” Chris said. “I want to make it fun.”