The redesigned Myspace finally opened up to the public Tuesday. A year and a half in the works, the site is both a social network and a music discovery destination.
The new Myspace would be a success if success were determined on style points alone. But as its predecessors have proven, a music site needs functionality to be competitive. Myspace appears to have a good set of tools. It works well as an on-demand music service, a personalized radio service and an on-demand video service.
The $35 million question is quite simple: will people care about a music-based social network in 2013 or did Specific Media, which acquired the site from News Corp in 2011, spend over a year overhauling the site for nothing?
But there is a more important secondary question for the music industry: if MySpace can become a modestly successful social network, what role will it have in building artist careers, generating revenue for artists and labels and acting as a tastemaker? The ability to attract eyeballs is one thing. The ability to influence music fans is something altogether different.
One thing Myspace still has going for it is traffic. Although its traffic pales in comparison next to that of Facebook, which had 148.5 million unique U.S. visitors in November, according to comScore, Myspace has been able to pull in from 26 million U.S. unique visitors in September to 28.8 million in October.
The new Myspace is clearly banking on its celebrity co-owner, Justin Timberlake, and its heavy emphasis on music discovery in its turnaround plans. The cornerstone of Myspace is the "Discover" page, a place where people can find trending songs, albums, mixes and videos. The page also has a radio tab with genre stations and a search function that creates radio stations based on artist searches a la Pandora.
The only things the new Myspace has in common with its predecessor are the name, the social aspects and the emphasis on music. Gone are the boxy music player, the hideous color combinations and the chaotic layouts. In their place is a slick, somewhat minimalist site that emphasizes full-color pictures and requires left-to-right scrolling. The controls to the music player always sit at the bottom of the page.
Navigation is easy. The home page is always accessible via the Myspace logo in the bottom left corner and the Discover link at the bottom of the screen, next to the music player controls, always gives quick access to popular songs, mixes and radio stations. Connecting to artists is extremely easy no matter the starting point. Whether you're listening to a radio station or a mix or viewing a profile, MySpace doesn't make you jump through hoops to follow the artist's profile.
Linking fan and artist is important. Specific Media co-CEO Chris Vanderhook told Billboard in October that Myspace wants to put that data in the hands of the community. "Artists want more transparency into who their most important fans are, so we're calculating who those people are and serving it not just for the artists but for the fans to have that recognition."
Although there are currently no advertisements at Myspace, the site is clearly a play at the younger music fan also targeted by Vevo, YouTube and Spotify (which has an advertising-based tier in addition to its paid subscription service). Because of its on-demand nature, and because it lacks radio's simplicity, Myspace is in a different category than Pandora, iHeartRadio and other advertising-based Internet radio services.
One might wonder if a person really needs another social network. Facebook is the social network for friends. LinkedIn is the social network for business. Twitter is the social network for messaging. Instagram is the social network for pictures. Do people really need a social network just for music?
Myspace thinks it has the answer for the empty space between the hipster niches and the top of the charts. On day one of the new era, it looks like the company is off to a decent start.