MySpace Musings

I just read Danah Boyd‘s eTech talk and it left me thinking a lot about MySpace and online communities and kids.

There’s been a ton of discussion about MySpace and the "danger" that it creates for kids. I was at a dinner last month with a group of some of the most sophisticated technology people in NYC and a woman pulled me aside and said, "what am I supposed to do about MySpace?".  I said, "what do you mean?".  She said, "it scares me".

MySpace doesn’t scare me.  I use it although I don’t use it often. I only have three friends on MySpace and one is Tom and another is my friend Steve’s new band, the Jonas Brothers.  I am playing their video on my MySpace page so be prepared if you go visit my page. 

I know what my kid’s pages look like although I rarely go visit them.  But my kids know I am on MySpace and I often tell them about a cool video or photo I’ve seen on MySpace and sometimes they’ll actually go check it out. I don’t hover over their MySpace activities, but I also don’t ignore them.

The Gotham Gal wrote a post about this last week. It’s a good post by a mom who cares a lot about her kids but isn’t worried about MySpace.  She said:

I have 2 kids that use My Space.  It is their generations space to
represent themselves.  Did parents freak when Elvis came on the scene?
Did they freak when the Rolling Stones came on the scene?  Did they
freak when they grew their hair long and rebelled?  Answers to all of
the above and more is yes, yes  yes.  Think about what you did growing
up that your parents were scared of.  They were scared because they
didn’t understand the space and weren’t sure how to teach you the tools
to navigate the situation.

What she is saying is we are lucky because MySpace is something we can figure out. Join it yourself.  Make a page.  Check it out.  Figure it out.

Chartreuse also has a great post on MySpace. He compares it to bikes:

Every day millions of kids get on bikes and ride around neighborhoods across the country without much parental supervision.

Now a lot of bad things can happen to a kid on a bike.

She can be hit by a car.

She can be abducted.

She can fall and break her arm.

She can just ride off as far as her feet can take her and decide never to come back home again.

Now because of all the horrible things which can happen to a kid on
a bike a huge industry was created. They sell helmets, kneepads, tracking systems, and the like to make bikes safer or parents feel more secure.

Despite all this stuff most parents still just give their kids some rules and let them ride.

MySpace is just the modern bike.

Lots of horrible things can happen to a kid on the internet. And the
industry will continue to grow based around protecting children from
all that horrible stuff or making parents feel more secure.

But the truth of the matter is that most parents will just give there child some rules and let them ride.

And that’s o.k.

Sounds like Gotham Gal and Chartreuse are on the same page.  And I am with them.

Jessica is starting to use Facebook more than MySpace. That’s a trickier one because parents can’t hang out in Facebook. But I’ve asked her if I can check out the service because I am curious to understand why its different than MySpace. She lets me see her page and that’s a good sign.

Back to Danah’s talk.  She is really all over what makes online communities work.  There’s a great section in her talk where she talks about Craig’s List, Flickr, and MySpace and points out that each service had a person (Craig, Stewart, and Tom) who were/are personally available in the community.  The point is that the best communities are built by people and they take on a culture early on that is representative of the people who build them.

Danah goes on to point out that scaling is a real issue.  How can one person or even a small group of people ride herd on something as huge as MySpace?  Danah says:

The people in charge of Craigslist, Flickr and MySpace breathe their
sites. They don’t go home at night and forget about the site. They are
online at 4AM because something went wrong. They are talking to users
at midnight just because. You cannot force this kind of passion – it’s
not just a job, it’s a belief system.

Unfortunately, it is not clear that even the most passionate people
can keep doing it forever. This type of true embeddedness is utterly
exhausting. It plays a heavy toll on the lives of the designers. Even
in smaller communities, creators grow tired.

And you wonder why MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, etc sell their businesses?

Another really great point Danah makes is about online language.  Check out this part of her talk:

[T]he following sentences [were] pulled from MySpace. Yes, they’re all English.

- "PatTy D aka tHe ScO CitY 415 LiKe wHa!!!"
  – "yung ant wassup wit it jus show’n da page sum luv so do da same a where u get dat background bru"
  – "suP WIt IT pLAY bOI?"

It’s easy to express horror and indignation at this writing style if
you’re not a part of the relevant social group, but that is a
condescending position. What these teens are doing with language is
fascinating and important. They are repurposing written words to
express culture in the same way that people have always repurposed
spoken words for slang. Because teens spend more time online, they are
morphing written words for expressive communication. They are
personalizing words.

Personalizing words and spaces and communities. We are at the dawn of the age of personalized media. The web has given the world a place where the audience is the publisher and what we are witnessing (and hopefully participating in) is the personalization of media. It will manifest itself in many strange and wonderful ways.

And I am embracing it; for me, for my kids, and for the rest of my life.