Your grandmother's guide to MySpace

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on January 9th, 2006.

Vicky Campbell turns on her computer the moment she gets home.  Though she’s in Kelowna she’s quickly talking to her boyfriend in Calgary, checking her friends’ blogs and checking to see if her favorite band has a new song to listen to on her to listen to as she goes about these seemingly unconnected bits of internet communication.  None of this is remarkable; all of these features have been on the internet for years, what’s remarkable is that now Campbell is using one site to communicate with the world.  What’s more remarkable is how many others are now using that site as well.

“I do everything on MySpace,” Campbell says, referring to the social networking site that has changed the way people interact so quickly and so completely that BusinessWeek and other publications are beginning to refer to the teens who use the site as The MySpace Generation.

“I met my boyfriend here (on MySpace), I keep in touch with him and all my friends here.  Sloan has a page, so I can listen to their new music and find out if I want to buy it.  I used to have a livejournal (blog) but now I just keep my diary up on MySpace so my friends can read it,” she says.

Campbell is one of a growing number of MySpace users, over 42 million, that have found the site and helped it grow in less than two years.  It gains another 4 million members every month and has been so successful that Fox television owner medial mogul Rupert Murdoch spent $580 million dollars to purchase the site in July.

It is a dating site, a blog journaling site, an instant messenger, an online photo album and a music site all in one.  It has launched the careers of rock bands and comedians such as Dane Cook.  Cook went from relative obscurity to hosting Saturday Night Live within a year because of MySpace. Cook famously used the site to build a fan base, with 640,000 people now signed up as "friends" (people who use and get updates from your site).

Launched in January 2004 by Tom Anderson (who has since sold the site but still has a large presence in it), MySpace can credit part of its success to timing, with Internet penetration into the home and high-speed access at record levels.

Several months ago, up-and-coming Denver band The Fray launched a MySpace page. Guitarist Joe King now says that the page is closing in on 100,000 page-views, that the single "Over My Head" has been played nearly 100,000 times and that MySpace will sponsor the band's first headlining North American tour in two months.

"It's funny because we just started maybe seven months ago. This whole MySpace movement is huge. We've got, like, 11,000 friends," King says with a laugh of disbelief (the number is closer to 13,000). "You can blast everybody with a message: 'The Fray is doing this or that.' "

It’s this sort of word of mouth marketing muscle that lead Interscope Records to partner with the site and launch the MySpace recording label.  MySpace was also the first place to see Nine Inch Nails concert footage, hear new albums from Madonna and Neil Diamond.

Robert Thompson, a pop-culture expert from Syracuse University, notes that while it’s the marketing aspects of MySpace that is attracting corporate America and has garnered stories in BusinessWeek, it’s still the social aspects that are drawing in new users like blogs.  At MySpace users can notify their friends about each post to their blog, and the same networking that musicians uses to market their music works to help the average user get their thoughts read by the internet.

"This is very different from a few generations ago. It used to be that diaries were sold with locks on them," Thompson says.

"Now people not only don't lock their diary, but they put it up on a blog and brag about how many hits it got." The blogging aspect of MySpace encourages that.

"You are in effect publishing your own autobiography," Thompson notes.

"Virtually every kid over the age of 12 knows about this and very few of their parents do. That's the key that's really making this thing work right now.

"There are people posting stuff that they'd not ever want their parents to read. Their diaries are still private to certain people."

“I use my blog to keep in touch with all my friends who’ve now left town,” Campbell says, “they all have pages and I can see when they’re online, read what they’ve been doing and see their pictures.”

While what’s cool on the internet moves quickly, the success of MySpace has created a growing and active community that brings together artists, advertisers and users in an interactive community that’s the centre of an increasing number of online lives.