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post 38 on Wednesday 27th June 2007 at 21:34

The MySpace Facebook Divide: Class, Corporation, Or Vibe?

YOU decide!For a few weeks I've been thinking about how MySpace and Facebook differ. Last night I made a text file that outlined a post speculating how MySpace and Facebook demonstrate a definite class divide, and then my boyfriend came home and said "did you see the news about Facebook and MySpace" I said "no!", "don’t tell me it was about a class divide?" he replied, "kinda, yeah!". But I have refused to let that stop me from writing my thoughts on the matter.

So, to those ubiquitous social networking sites which have become such an integral part of our lives. How do they differ logistically? Where do their origins lie? And how different are the people that use them? How are they divided and how are they united?

Obviously you can do very similar things with both sites: you maintain a list of friends and contacts; and have a host of features that facilitate and enrich contact and communication with those friends: such as groups, file sharing, blogs, video, comments, etc. Technically, the layout, and design, and especially the control over your page, are different. But above all these two omnipotent forces just feel different. Maybe it’s a vibe thing? A different crowd? If you could put them in little groups, Facebookers would be the educated elite of future professionals; and MySpacers the rowdy but easy-going kids from the high school down the road. Some users (actually, a lot), of course, do not belong to such blatant and vulgar stereotypes. Take me for instance; I was not educated at a public school, instead my impoverished family shooed me off to the nearest high school (which just so happened to be eight miles away). I do however have an education and that’s how I came about Facebook about a year ago. I joined MySpace far later, although I was aware of its presence for some time before I finally enrolled myself.

I believe the difference in the two sites comes down to the networks within the networks. Historically, potential Facebookers needed to supply a valid University email address. Now? "Everyone can join", that's true. But Facebook is far more a closed network. And especially so because profile’s hinge off networks within Facebook: for instance, my network is Newcastle, so only people within the Newcastle network can see my profile. I’m also in the Teesside Uni network; they can see my profile too. Anyone else has to make a friend request before they can see the unabridged content of my page. Contrastingly, anyone can view anyone's profile on MySpace. People don’t belong to predetermined networks. The scope for faraway friends is far greater; yet you feel miles away from those close to you.

As for customisation you can do as you will with your MySpace page, but you must first learn how to do it – and they don’t make it easy. You can develop applications for Facebook, but it must be through the correct channels. With this have come teething problems, but at the same time, entire sub-communities have been born thence just for Facebook developers. This concept of fraternity is not as prevalent on MySpace. Here it seems each man for him self as entrepreneurs vie for your space as much as bone-fide friends.

Facebook was started for student academe by Mark Zuckerman, but his Facebook idea was very well developed at version two before it became the Facebook we know and love. Incidentally, it originally got him kicked out of school. Schools in China had been using BBS for years before Facebook appeared. But Facebook took the BBS model and expanded it; allowing a far greater range of community driven activity and expression. It originally restricted to members with a college or university email address: so its roots clearly lie with the educated. Even the name Facebook refers to a publication in US colleges that’s distributed at the start of the academic year by administrations to help the kids get to know one another better. What a charming idea!

MySpace was founded by two people long out of University as a totally commercial venture and is now owned by corporate giants Fox.

Now I wondered the other day what will happen to poor old Friends Reunited? They must surely have reached total user saturation. I’ve seen profiles unchanged and users not logging in for three years or more. Feel pity for them: they were at the right place at the right time, but there was no infrastructure there. The networking was all wrong. And they certainly didn’t have any new fangled web 2.0 technology.

As I sit here typing, I’m getting the feeling that both sites are destined for either corporate sell out, or bored-user burn out. Everyone wants a piece of the social networking phenomena and I know deep down that their corporate longevity will be curtailed.

What I do see sticking however are the sites that offer first and foremost an industry or an interest, such as video or music: take YouTube and They too have a large base of (far quieter) users, who are concentrating on their art at the same time as having fun and networking. So while MySpace increase their content (as seen in their new video television service), YouTube are broadening their social networking tools. Convergence I hear you cry? Perhaps. In any case, watch out for greater video support on MySpace and improved user tools on YouTube.

So we know how different the sites are, we know how their users differ, and we know what ideas stick with popularity, despite hype. But where will all this end?

All it says to me is that the web will one day mirror society in its social infrastructure. Oh, and when it gets to that point, people might realise that real life is better, and go to the pub instead.

tags: [ online ] [ social networking ]