We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Badges

Facebook and Myspace are both companies who have only one product, their websites. You would expect then that they would take unusual care in making their sites the best they could possibly be: attractive; easy to use; secure; reliable. Irony sometimes doesn’t really come across on the Internet. That was irony.

Although both sites offer the same kind of social networking functions, there seems to be a fundamental difference between them in that Myspace offers almost unlimited scope for customising the appearance of a user’s profile, while Facebook offers none. While that might seem like one up to Myspace, maybe it’s really not. Maybe people can’t cope with too much choice and would rather be told what to do. As Mrs Doyle said when given a Teasmade “Maybe I like the misery!”

Whatever the reason, the number of users of Myspace has fallen by about a fifth in the last year, while Facebook’s stats show a slow but steady increase. Right now, Facebook is actively used by about twice as many people as Myspace.

Obviously, this pattern is going to be of some concern in the Myspace boardroom, (which seems to be a room with revolving doors), leading to a search for a new, user-attracting strategy. The new, Version 3, profile being offered (optionally) to users is part of that. I had a look and decided not to change until forced to. Unsurprisingly, it looks a bit like Facebook, with the “Stream” promoted to prominence, like Facebook’s “Wall”. I had a few niggles, but the main thing I didn’t like was a large advert placed within the flow of “my” page. The equivalent in V2, in the page header, just seems less intrusive. (I never see ads myself, but most people still do.)

Another part of the masterplan is the awarding of “badges”. When I was a Cub Scout, I had an armful of badges. Knots, crafts, campfire building, that sort of thing. They must have been an incentive for me to achieve, but then I was only ten or eleven. I’m a little older now, and my reaction to being “awarded” a badge (for changing my profile photo, not much of an achievement) was severe annoyance at being patronised. I got even more cross as I discovered that there’s no way to opt out of badges. The best I could do was to customize my profile and stop the badges module from displaying. (It has no configuration options. Just all or nothing.)

The minimum age for Myspace is 13. I’m pretty sure that even by 13, I was too cool to care about earning badges, but even if I was advanced for my age, Myspace would surely understand the general demographics of their users and target their features to gain maximum impact. If the average age of Myspace users was 13, badges might be a winning strategy. But the reality is that those two digits are reversed. The average declared age on Myspace isn’t 13, it’s 31.

To me, all of that is good evidence that the strategists at Myspace don’t having a fucking clue about where they’re going. Unless they randomly hit on something which happens to be a success, the only way is deeper and down.

The average ages are: LinkedIn (44 years); MySpace (31 years); Facebook (38 years); and Twitter (39 years).

example V3 profile


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