MySpace: Bad Usability Cost Them The Crown

It’s becoming more and more clear that the relatively short-lived reign of MySpace as the king of social networking sites, is over.  Facebook is the new Emperor of social networking.  We need not look much further than the horrible user experience of the average MySpace user to find out why the crown is gone.

The Rise and Fall of MySpace

According to the Alexa rankings, Facebook is the 2nd most visited site on the net (and closing in on Google for #1).  MySpace?  25th, and falling.  This is quite a shift from a few years ago when MySpace was the largest social network on the planet.

MySpace was bought by Fox News Corp in 2005 while still on the rise.  Maybe this was their downfall, as Rupert Murdoch clearly doesn’t understand how people use the Internet.  But I don’t think that Rup can be held solely responsible for this one.  So then, the question remains: why did MySpace lose the popularity contest?  There are a whole slew of reasons which I won’t attempt to elaborate on here:  Perhaps it was bad management.  Maybe it was their lack of ability to decide what they really are: a dating site?  a social portal?  a music site?  a band swapping place? who knows.  Maybe it was their appeal to the blue-collar internet crowd which pushed the advertising dollars toward the more affluent Facebook.

I’m not interested in any of those reasons.  I’m interested in the one reason that really stands out to me:  a complete and utter disregard of usability.  One of the biggest downfalls of MySpace is that the majority of people’s pages look completely unprofessional. Going to a MySpace page makes me feel like I’ve hopped into a time machine and landed back in the 90’s again. The onslaught of automatically playing music, animated gifs, and whacky fonts makes my head spin.

To be fair to MySpace, it isn’t that their website it totally unusable.  Their major problem is that they have allowed people to create and customize their own pages (based on templates MySpace provides), and unfortunately, a lot of people do not know the slightest thing about usability.  This has resulted in a barrage of unusable personal pages (and what is a social networking site if it’s not build around the user’s page?).  Here are a few of the common usability problems that I regularly see on MySpace profiles:

Misaligned content

I honestly don’t know what the MySpace designers were thinking.  One of the fastest and most efficient ways to make people say “unprofessional” is to have content boxes that aren’t aligned properly.  It is possible to align your content boxes, but it takes a lot of effort. Some of the boxes are wider than others, some longer… it’s just a mess.  This makes for a very unprofessional look, and is visually unappealing.

Badly chosen fonts

I’m not sure why, but for some reason, many people in the world are attracted to using gaudy, unreadable fonts on their MySpace pages.  It’s strange, because I don’t know many people that like to read these types of fonts — so why so many people think that using them in their own profiles is a good idea is beyond my comprehension.  Perhaps it’s a way of filling the need to feel unique; but there are many other more effective ways to do this.

Horrid colour schemes

People, seriously.  Here’s a free public service announcement:  the human eye is not built to read neon text on a yellow background.  Or blue on blue.  Or black on brown.  Or… you get the point.

Ridiculous Page Backgrounds

As a usability practitioner, I usually try and avoid the word “ridiculous” as a descriptor. But sometimes, you just need to say it like it is.  I was just on a MySpace page with a bright red background that turned out on closer inspection to be the Chinese flag, with cartoon pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein, and Chairman Yao weaing party hats and giving peace signs.  And it was tiled.

‘Comments’ pages that scroll forever

Again, MySpace, what are you thinking?  Do any other (successful) sites do this?  No.  Is there a reason for that?  Yes.  It is superbly annoying:  first of all, I’m probably not going to read a hundred comments.  But more importantly, it makes the page load far more slowly than it needs to.  Which leads me to the fact that…

It’s sloooooooow

Having streaming content on a page is going to make the page load slowly.  In fact, according to Alexa, 83% of sites load faster than MySpace.com.  Yet, for some reason, people continue to overload their pages with songs that start streaming automatically, pictures, silly backgrounds, infinite comments, videos, … and the list goes on.

And so, the Crown is Gone

The real issue here, is that MySpace has done nothing to mitigate these issues.  I understand that they have gone the route of personalization.  Is this the way of a successful social networking site?  Facebook, a the more successful successor, does not allow personalization through these self-destructive means.  Personalization takes on other forms: content, widgets, photo galleries, status updates, the Wall, etc etc.  MySpace has had it’s day in the sun, and we have all learned from their experience.  User experience matters.

It’s not that MySpace is dead.  In fact, it’s still very much alive.  But it’s dwindling, and it’s quickly becoming the “slums” of social networking sites.  Sorry MySpace, but it appears that the fat lady has sung (on the up and up, she probably has a MySpace page).  Guess you should have done some more user testing.

About Jonathan

Following an undergraduate degree in computer science, some worldly adventures, and years in the software industry, I find myself back at school getting a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction. And I love it.
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