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June 7, 2023 31 mins

In April 2023, Joanne did something she hadn't tried in well over a decade — she logged into her MySpace account. For our season finale, she set out to find the people who still use MySpace to this day. She reviews the factors that contributed to MySpace’s demise, and looks at what we lost when the MySpace era ended.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:09):
Originals. This is an iHeart original.

Speaker 2 (00:14):
So I was really intrigued by the idea of MySpace
and the sense of community it had. I was way
too young to use it back then. I mean I
was like three or four years old, but yeah, I
really liked the idea of this platform where everyone could
express their creativity because one of the main selling points

of MySpace was that people could create their own layouts,
could customize their profiles as much as they wanted, and
basically turned their profile into their own space on the Internet.

Speaker 1 (00:48):
I'm Joanne McNeil and this is main accounts the story
of MySpace, Episode eight, MySpace Forever. In April of this year,
twenty twenty three, I did something that I haven't done
in well over a decade. I tried to log into

my Space. I reset my password, logged into a Yahoo
account that I also haven't accessed in ages, and there
I was. I'm right now typing MySpace dot com into
my web browser. That's Chrome. I see there's a headline here.

It says red Hot Chili Peppers, nine inch Nails, Slipknot
and Kiss to headline Louder than Life lineup. And this
is dated March ninth, twenty twenty two. It's a Spin
magazine piece, so not super recent, but not as far

back as two thousand and eight. On the front page
where music related news stories from twenty twenty two. Interestingly enough,
the first thing I see when I click on the
tab people is sign in with your Facebook account to
find friends who are already on MySpace. That was definitely

not the case in two thousand and eight. In fact,
I feel like my Space was very much trying the
opposite of this. In two thousand and eight, I see
a few musicians under discover People. One is Sam Smith.
I'm gonna click on Sam Smith's page and okay, it

says he's based in London, England. Personal site is samsmithworld
dot com. Looks like he added a video in November
of twenty fifteen, so yeah, this is almost a decade ago.
There was a list of featured artists and musicians. One

of them was Avril Levine, who, according to her MySpace profile,
had a new album out. I looked up that new
album and it was released in twenty thirteen. But it
wasn't just musicians who I found there. Fossilized in Amber,
I saw old friends and pictures of them from two

thousand and six or two thousand and seven. There wasn't
much and the site was difficult to navigate. Most of
what I saw were broken links, images that failed to load, gaps,
and profiles where there might have been media players or
testimonials before. It wasn't a journey to the past because
so much as missing now, with little of my own

MySpace content to excavate, I decided instead to try to
find people who use MySpace to this day. Who are they?
I figure there had to be someone using it like
a social network in twenty twenty three, right, I mean
it works. You can log in, you can add friends.

Someone in the world has to be doing that right now. No,
there's an option to search for men and women. I'm
just going to put it from thirty three to forty three.
See if anyone shows up here. Here's an actor named

Claire and I'm going to her page. She has nine
connections and nine hundred friends. I'm going to see about
trying to add her as a friend. This is definitely confusing.
I don't even know how to add her as a friend.

This is really tricky. It's not the easiest site to navigate.
Not that that's a huge surprise. But I'm just looking
for other people like me who are in Los Angeles.
I'm just going to search this whole thing eighteen to
fifty and see who pops up. I really had to

dig to find someone active on the site. Eventually I
found someone hanging around Jimmy Kimmel's page. At some point,
Jimmy Kimmel got verified on MySpace. This guy who goes
by kroc Ken left Jimmy a bunch of testimonials that
seemed relatively recent. There's some guy called k rock Ken,

and he left a post for him that says, kim
ol we miss your daily post on here, Kevin, Kevin
and Bean love you. I'm going to click on k
roc Ken because if he misses Jimmy Kimmel in twenty sixteen,
that means he was like hanging out here at some point.
I might even send ky rock Ken a message, if

I can figure out how to do that, or if
I could figure out how to leave a testimonial for him.
I don't see anywhere to message him at all. I like,
this is so confusing. I'm on k rock Ken's page.

He's definitely active on here. He's got a million connections,
eighty six thousand people connected to him. He's had some
kind of posts on his site, Like I think it's
a Twitter connection, Like maybe his tweets automatically Okay, that's

what it is. His tweets automatically show up on his
MySpace page. So it looks like he's super active on Twitter,
and that means he's had he has like a bunch
of updates to his page in the past. The past
couple of weeks. K rock Ken was another dead end.

Anyone who seemed active on MySpace was cross posting material
there from another platform like Twitter. So how did this happen?
How did my Space go from the number one website
in America to this hall of mirrors and broken links.
As we will find out in this episode, there were

a number of factors that contributed to my Space's demice factor.
Number one the News Corp Deal.

Speaker 2 (07:41):
Silicon Valley is buzzing about whether Rupert Murdoch will dump
MySpace or not, but even if he does, will help
the stop One.

Speaker 3 (07:49):
Of the biggest things about Murdoch's purchase of MySpace was
that it was actually a signal to the rest of
traditional media that you could do that kind of thing.
It was a bold move because the other media companies
were scared.

Speaker 1 (08:08):
That's Julia Angwin, the author of Stealing MySpace, the battle
to control the most popular website in America.

Speaker 3 (08:17):
They've been burned by their acquisitions during the dot com boom,
and no one was moving in this space. And Murdoch's
acquisition of MySpace was really the first big purchase at
the time. It's so funny because it was six hundred
million dollars and at the time everyone was like, oh
my god, he spent so much. Now, of course, all
these tech acquisitions are always in the billions, and so

that just seems like nothing. But everyone thought it's so bold,
he's being so aggressive. Oh my god, Murdoch, maybe he's
going to lose his shirt. But it did actually encourage
others to move into that space and follow his.

Speaker 1 (08:53):
Lead, and the deal was a disaster. Six years after
news Corp acquired my Space, it put the company back
on sale again. Justin Timberlake, of all people, with a
company called Specific Media, bought it from news Corp. So yes,
at one point in my Space's long afterlife, Justin Timberlake

was the owner of MySpace. The fact that not too
many people know. This bit of trivia about MySpace kinda
tells you how well Timberlake and Company did reviving the
social network in the twenty teens. Time Inc. Acquired MySpace

at twenty sixteen, it was reported that the company valued
MySpace for its old user data. More on that in
a bit. In its current capacity barely functioning, full of deadlinks.
MySpace is the property of an advertising company called Viiant. Technology.
Factors two and three, which explained my Space's demise go

hand in hand. Factor two the rise of smartphones. When
my stays launched, broadband was swiftly overtaking dial up. Suddenly
the Internet was fast and you could quickly exchange music
and images. But then there was another big shift. With smartphones,

people had access to the internet. Twenty four to seven,
the Internet was with you, in your pocket. The next factor,
factor three. The global financial crisis in the late odds
was a period in which investors pumped money into Silicon Valley.
Any post Dot com crash, fears that this was a

risky bet were quelled by the landscape. It was assumed
by many that the tech sector couldn't plausibly be any
riskier than real estate. Or banking. In two thousand and eight,
startups flush with cash made a play for social media.
Companies were taking off left and right, companies like Twitter, Instagram,

four Square, and Tumblr, and each was suited for this
era of smartphones. You could post pictures to Instagram while
walking the dog tweet from the airport. MySpace was made
for an internet you accessed from a stationary computer in
your home. It didn't have a mobile strategy to speak of.

Its vernacular of testimonials and favorite bands you list in
your profile all felt antiquated. And that brings us to
factor number four.

Speaker 2 (11:48):
Facebook, And we take Facebook seriously, and it's not a
head on fight.

Speaker 3 (11:55):
I think a lot of people are on both.

Speaker 1 (11:57):
Maybe it was never a head on fight, as Rupert
Murdoch put it back in two thousand and eight, but
one of the two was clearly the victor. More on
how Facebook came to dominate social media after the break.

Over the course of this series, I aim to show
how diverse MySpace was. So many people from so many
walks of life were on it. What was unifying about
the MySpace experience was that these users tended to be
very young. Facebook users were also very young at first

Facebook was limited to Harvard students when it launched, then
the social network selectively opened the gates to students at
other elite colleges. The earliest Facebook users were set to
be the ruling class, future Nobel Prize winners, future senators
and diplomats, your president's future Academy Award winners, the good kids. Meanwhile,

you'd open up the New York Times and see someone
compare MySpace to a trailer park. Michael Wolfe, who wrote
a biography of Rupert Murdoch, was quoted saying that, in
his words, nobody who has beyond an eighth grade education
is on MySpace, and that Murdoch acquired it in order
to capitalize on the rising lower class. I've seen a

few academics discuss the transition from MySpace to Facebook as
digital white flight, but I think this analysis is incomplete
because MySpace users were stigmatized and Facebook profited off that stigma.
MySpace was this stranger danger platform. Meanwhile, Facebook branded itself

with its ties to a school that any helicopter parent
hopes to send their kids one day.

Speaker 3 (14:07):
Yeah, my Space really sort of became the focus of
this concern about predators using social network platforms to find victims.
But the reality is it was happening across the industry, right.
This was also happening at Craigslist. People were placing ads
to meet other people, and there were terrible things and

murders that happened as a result. That happened with It
happened a little bit less with Facebook because people use
their real names, and at this time Facebook was pretty
much limited to Ivy League institutions, so there was less
that at least I know of that happened to like that.

Speaker 1 (14:50):
That's Joy Anguin, author of stealing MySpace.

Speaker 3 (14:54):
All platforms where you can basically meet people and you
don't know who they really are face this problem. But
MySpace was just the biggest because they had such wild
success and grew so fast, and their target market was
really young girls. The people who loved decorating their pages

were teenage girls who previously used that energy to decorate
their lockers. So people could make them all different colors
and they could be shiny and glittery and they could
have blinking lights and all that stuff. And Facebook was
like this really boring place where it was like white
and blue and you couldn't do anything to your profile
and it was very much It was at that time
for only Ivy League kids, and it was definitely like

my Facebook was the bookstore. It was like the clean,
well lighted place for books, and MySpace was the nightclub.

Speaker 1 (15:47):
Nowadays we associated Facebook with data harvesting and surveillance based advertising,
but when Facebook first launch, that really wasn't the case.

Speaker 3 (15:58):
Facebook wasn't doing that at that time. They were not
They didn't start their ad business till after my Space
did my Space really start started this business of letting
advertisers buy different segments.

Speaker 1 (16:12):
Some context on that point that Julia made. There was
a story of The New York Times in two thousand
and seven that showed a glimpse of the era of
surveillance capitalism soon to come, and it was all about MySpace.
The headline was MySpace minds data to tailor advertising. The
reporter Bradstone noted that MySpace can tailor ads to the

personal information that it's one hundred and ten million active
users leave on their profile pages. MySpace had algorithms that
scan users' pages for the purpose of what they called
interest based targeting. So users would get filtered into categories
like sports or fashion, and they'd see ads related to

these campaigns, but these algorithms evidently weren't all that advanced
or accurate. The story revealed that two hundred temporary workers,
which MySpace called relevance testers, would come into the MySpace
offices and manually check user profiles to see if they
were filtered correctly into these categories. Several years later, people

are now more aware of the harm that can come
from targeted ads because of scandals ranging from digital redlining
to Cambridge Analytica. But in two thousand and seven, when
this story ran, few might have predicted how pervasive and
abusive targeted ads would soon become.

Speaker 3 (17:42):
I do think that I didn't quite understand how the
invasive this privacy was going to be and be how
profitable it was going to be.

Speaker 1 (17:52):
And just so I'm following you correctly, would you say
that MySpace had it succeeded, would it be you know,
a monster of targeted ads, no less than Facebook and
Google today? I mean sit on track to do that
kind of to be that kind of business.

Speaker 3 (18:14):
Yeah, I think that it would have been. My Space
had the potential to be as big as Facebook in
its ability to deliver targeted ads, and the you know,
Facebook is really the place if you're a small business
and you don't have a huge advertising budget, It's really

the best place to go is Facebook, because you just
go and you're like, Okay, my business is in Berkeley, California,
so I'll target Berkeley residents. I want this age, I
want this They're interested in flowers, and I have a
flower shop. My Space had a different models did They
allowed anonymity, so they were always going to have a
slightly less in depth look at their users. But they

but they did have so much information about everyone's interests,
and so if they had continued their growth, they could
have probably been a Facebook sized operation. But when I
was writing about MySpace, there wasn't really a sense that
this was an interesting or creepy world of selling user data.

It wasn't until I basically went back and started this
series on privacy that people started to think about it
as creepier.

Speaker 1 (19:29):
Yeah, and now that data has come back to hot
users in a way because with the issue of how
Timing bought MySpace in twenty sixteen, and the old data
was cited as the reason that they would even want it.
So I'm kind of curious, like, what is this old
data even worth to data brokers and advertisers. Like, what's

going on there.

Speaker 3 (19:52):
It's so interesting, right, the shady world of data brokers
and how they buy up the like what I call
zombie websites, you know, because websites don't really die, they
just sort of stay online. You know. Tumblr is still there,
my Space is still there, but like they're sort of
like not being tended to, you know, And that means

that there's still a lot of user data. There's the
user logins and this and that, but there's also just
user behavior. And in a world where user behavior data
is hard to find and is really valuable, people buy it.
And the reason it's valuable is because the world, the

online world these days, is really powered by algorithms and
algorithms that can predict user behavior right. Very specifically, the
main financial driver of most internet websites is advertising, and
advertisers want to know who people are and what they're

going to do in the future, and very specifically, are
they going to buy my shoes in the future? Right?
And so basically anyone who can come up with a
bucket of data and make somes can compete in this market.
And so there are all sorts of people out there
buying sort of these data trips. Now, one that is
old and stale like MySpace probably doesn't go for as

much as a fresher and better data source. But you know,
there are hundreds of these companies out there, and so
somebody is going to buy it.

Speaker 1 (21:25):
MySpace, with what little of it exists today, has tried
to catch up on data mining like more robust, big
tech social media platforms. That's probably why logging into the
site in twenty twenty three is not a fun time.
What people are nostalgic for is something they can't find

on MySpace dot com, the energy and excitement that was
there in the oughts after the break. We'll meet someone
trying to revive that energy.

Speaker 2 (22:13):
That'd love to talk to Tom one day. It's one
of my heroes.

Speaker 1 (22:16):
I think that's Anton Rahm. He's the founder of a
MySpace clone called space Hey, and he's twenty years old.

Speaker 2 (22:25):
I spent hours when developing space a on archive dot
org and on YouTube watching old videos and screen casts
of MySpace and checked how my space looked back then.
But I only saw a few aspects of MySpace, mainly
the homepage and some profiles. But I couldn't really get
the whole feeding for it, because yeah, I could only

see screenshots. I couldn't interact and feel how my space
was back then. So the main things that the main Yeah,
how I implemented and developed Space whereby just imagining, Okay,
the design is the one thing, but also how this
platform should feel, how this platform should work. In the background,
I just imagined how it could be with MySpace and

what are things that I don't currently like about modern
social media and put that all together and basically developed
something new.

Speaker 1 (23:16):
Space. Hey looks like MySpace as you might remember it.
It was a sense of community that your anton to
build a clone of it. He feels like current offerings
don't give users the same possibilities as they had on MySpace.

Speaker 2 (23:33):
So I was really intrigued by the idea of MySpace
and the sense of community it had back then. I
was way too young to use it back then. I
mean I was like three or four years old, but yeah,
I really liked the idea of this platform where everyone
could express their creativity. Because one of the main selling

points of MySpace was that people could create their own layouts,
could customize their profiles as much as they wanted, and
basically turn their profile into their own space on the Internet.
And I looked around online a bit and found that
there's no bladform quite like it nowadays. So if you
look at modern social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever,

I think that most profiles basically look the same. Sure,
you could customize your name and your profile pick in
your post, but that's basically it. And I really liked
the idea of giving people back the freedom of customizing
everything on a social network. And that's why when I

had the idea to basically recreate MySpace for the modern
era and for a new generation, so people could both
relivet those MySpace days now but also rediscover it like
me myself because I haven't experienced it. So yeah, that's
how space a came to be. I basically coded for
two three weeks straight and shared my progress on social

media and people really liked it. So yeah, I didn't
think it would become so big, but now one and
a half years later, it has over half a million
users and it's quite exciting to see how many people
love to relivet in my Space days.

Speaker 1 (25:17):
Anton got a lot of interest early on. People were excited,
and it was a mix of people who had been
on MySpace and missed it, and people like Anton who
were too young to experience it, not even born yet perhaps,
but heard about it. I thought it sounded like a
fun time.

Speaker 2 (25:40):
Technically, I don't track much about the user's data because
I try to be as privacy friendly as possible, But
by just looking at the profiles which pop up, I
can see that they're all kinds of people on space,
with all kinds of interests, in all groups of ages.
For example, I see a lot of people who, for example,

personally message me and say, wow, thank you so much
for recreating my space. Is because they were kind of
big on MySpace back then, with hundreds of thousands of friends.
But there are also lots of teens like me who
say wow, they also heard about MySpace from social media nowadays,
but couldn't really think about what it was back then,
and they're really happy to re experience it and get

to get the chance to like experience this for the
first time. And that's the really fascinating thing to see,
because it's really a mix of old and.

Speaker 1 (26:33):
Young people enjoy the experience of a social network without
algorithms directing you to see viral content or not and
the absence of a timeline is also striking.

Speaker 2 (26:47):
Yeah, it's quite fascinating because they're like there's no timeline
or anything on space A similar to MySpace, so they
can't just get thrown in. They have to friend people.
And also you can't just follow people, but you have
to send a request and they have to accept it
and it's mutual. So that's really interesting because that way,
they're like way different ones I think between the people,

and it's much more personal and honest. And that's what
I really really like because it's exciting to see so
many people get together and become some even real time,
real life friends on such a platform, and it's much
more personal than yes, say YouTube or Twitter or Instagram.

Speaker 1 (27:31):
And how do you feel about the sustainability of these communities?
Like with most social media, it was built to scale
and make a lot of money through advertising, and how
do you kind of intend to preserve that simplicity, if
that's the right word, of connections that you have right

now on the platform.

Speaker 2 (27:54):
Yeah, that's one of the main challenges right now, because
I don't want to like put personalized advertisements or anything
on space A because I really don't want to track
anything about my users, because I think that's a way,
much more better way for the future of social media
to not be privacy invasive and just sell all the

data which gets stract to advertisers. So that's the challenge
right now. I'm trying to do like channel of sponsorship
or something with brand to get some money to run
Space A. But also one huge point right now is
that I'm selling stickers of the Space A logo, So
people who like Space can support me by naming their

own price and I'll send them personally some stickers for them.
But that's the main funding way right now. But it's
one of the challenges to keep it running in the
long run because yeah, as more and more people join
Space now over half a million, which is incredible, the
costs for servers and stuff goes up as well. So yeah,
that's the main thing I have to think about right now.

But it's only me working on it, so yeah, we'll see.
But it's it's true, it's a challenge to get even
some companies to talk to me with advertising with non personalized.

Speaker 1 (29:13):
Ats anton with Space, Hay is coming upon the issue
that every social network has to grapple with that of scale.
There is no example in the history of the Internet
of a social network that is massively adopted without consequences,
which means there are a number of companies that we

have Main Accounts could devote our attention to, as we
did this season on MySpace. Thank you to all of
our guests for sharing their experiences with us, and thank
you to our listeners. I'd love to hear from you
as I get started on season two of Maine Accounts.
Is there a tech company or platform that you remember
well from years ago, Tumblr, Neopets, AOL, or something else.

I'd love to hear your stories. You can reach me
at Joe Miic on Twitter. Appears to be still around
at least this week, but who knows. That might be
the subject of our season three investigation. In any case,
thank you for listening. This has been Main Accounts, The

Story of MySpace and iHeart Original Podcast. Thanks for listening
to Main Accounts, The Story of MySpace and iHeart Original Podcast.
Main Accounts The Story of MySpace is written and hosted
by me Joanne McNeil, editing it's sound design by Mike
Coscarelli and Mary Do. Original music by Elise McCoy, mixing

and mastering by Josh Fisher. Research and fact checking by
Austin Thompson, Jocelyn Sears, and Marissa Brown. Show logo by
Lucy Kentania. Special thanks to Ryan Murdoch, Grace Views and
Behead Frasier. Our associate producer is Lauren Phillip, Our senior
producer is Mike Coscarelli, and our executive producer is Jason English.

If you're enjoying the show, leave us a rating and
review on your favorite podcast platform Sadly, my MySpace page
is no longer around, but you can find me on
Twitter at Joe Mick. Let us hear your MySpace story
and check out my book Lurking main accounts. The Story
of MySpace is a production of I Heard Podcasts.
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