UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 605 January 11, 2011

Myspace's UX-Induced Death

There's an interesting thread happening on reddit right now, sparked by this post by a soon-to-be-terminated Myspace employee:

For better or worse I am a Myspace employee. Today, Myspace will be laying off 60% of the staff. This comes as no surprise to us or anyone who is vaguely familiar with the recent lack of success of Myspace. I work in the Beverly Hills HQ. So...ask away...I'll do my best to keep this up to date.

There are a lot of frivolous questions attached to the post, but the most valuable question asks, "What are the reasons for the failure of MySpace in your opinion?" The first, and most obvious answer: "[T]he primary failure of Myspace was usability."

Check out the thread on reddit for the full discussion, but here are some highlights:

One thing at MS is its very departmentalized. Not being part of UI or the player team, I did not voice my opinions that they both sucked & instead left it up to those teams to solve those issues.

 

I'd guess the problem was that the people were using the features. If they were doing surveys, I bet everyone was rating highly the ability to customise their own page. And (some) people do like a high level of customisation. People bitched and moaned at Facebook to allow it too. What they may have missed is a survey of people currently not using Myspace. Because I'd bet that a reason for leaving/using Facebook instead was the clean, elegant look of Facebook, compared to the eye-bleach that most 14 year old girls turned their Myspaces into. People like customising, but they don't like it when other people can customise too. Sometimes, cutting that customisation is a good thing.

 

It's indicative of what happens when the public makes decisions about how their products are designed: 9 times out of 10 what the public collectively wants is just plan awful. The fact is most people just aren't very smart, and the more you have in a group, the dumber they get. When you have a focus group of grandmas and parents and kids all sitting in a room together, and you ask them a question like "would you like to be able to customize your website?" most of them are going to think yeah, that sounds good! without even realizing what that will entail. The sad thing is, the people who made all those gaudy, flashy, obnoxious myspace sites liked them, but then they all went to Facebook because Facebook let them do what they wanted to do with as little bullshit as possible, and it turns out they didn't really want what they thought they wanted. This should be a cardinal rule for every business: people, for the most part, have no fucking idea what they want until it lands in their fucking laps.

 

Thanks to Justin Tulk for bringing this to our attention.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Jonathan (@first_day) is a tech-focused jack of all trades and the editor-in-chief of UX Magazine. He is also the author of Effective UI: The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software, published by O'Reilly Media. Through its partnership with UX Magazine, Jonathan is also a senior advisor to Didus, a recruiting and career development company focused on user-centered professionals. As well, Jonathan is Managing Director, Product Strategy & Design for Dapperly, a fashion-oriented software product startup, and he is the Principal of First Day, a small private equity and consulting company. From 2005 to 2009, Jonathan helped found EffectiveUI, a leading UX strategy, design, and development agency focused on web, desktop, and mobile systems.

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16
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I don't get Vanveen's comment about Apple not having good UX. Part of it is marketing and other factors, but the overall control they have of the entire platform often makes the user experience much better.

Anyway, I think that MySpace's death was attributable to UX issues, but there are other aspects to the equation. The media promoted a lot of MySpace horror stories to youths at the time and this I think played a role. The racial divide of MySpace also played a role as white people flocked to Facebook and many minorities initial clung to MySpace as often talked about at NPR. And I think that the closed off nature of Facebook in the beginning was an interesting marketing edge as it always had sort of a closed off mystique.

Facebook is now so ridiculously dominant that they have their URLs and logos plastered on billboards and tv ads by other companies and a whole array of businesses listed at http://buyfacebookfansreviews.com that do nothing but help promote other businesses to people on Facebook. Facebook has become an amazing platform that is being widely used so much that Google is trying to get in on the action with Google+. I think that Google has a well-known brand name and all, but they are going to have a really tough road to travel based on all of the advantages that Facebook has and I think that Google is really struggling right now to compete in this social arena.

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Actually, for me poor UX was the very reason i didn't JOIN myspace -- let alone leave. Facebook, albeit full of usability problems, had a more "neutral" first impression for me. At least it didn't pound me in the face with a reason not to join right form the beginning.

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Actually, for me poor UX was the very reason i didn't JOIN myspace -- let alone leave. Facebook, albeit full of usability problems, had a more "neutral" first impression for me. At least it didn't pound me in the face with a reason not to join right form the beginning.

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Apple would like you to believe that they succeed via UX, as that's a great story. But that's not really why.
Apple's success, if you actually look at the numbers, comes from the iPod and the iPhone, not its line of computers. The iPod does not have a terribly good interface. What it does have are iTunes, the first widespread legal downloading service, and a form factor that women would agree to carry (nobody remembers the "also rans" anymore, but trust me...look at some of the players from the late 90s...some (male) tech geeks would be ashamed to carry them, they were so dorky). These drove adoption, as even a superficial examination of the case history shows. (I like to point out--it's true--that the iPod sold fewer units its first year than Barry Manilow's Christmas album. iTunes wasn't out yet.)
The iPhone was not a UX-friendly phone. It was a crappy computer you could carry around and run very useful lightweight mobile software on. That is a classic example of one of Christensen's disruptive innovations. It wasn't about a fancier phone, it was about disrupting the computer.
Designers and Apple fans love to cite UX as why Apple rules. That's part of the Apple religion, and you can't argue them out of it. Especially because so many are designers without much knowledge of basic business strategy, marketing, or technical adoption frameworks. But strictly speaking it's not true. Then again, tell any fundamentalist that one of their "core truths" isn't true and see how far that gets you.

17
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There are numerous reasons for the failure of myspace including, but not limited to, the UX. The argument made is somewhat valid however I think it ignores many of the other issues myspace had including it's inconsistency and considerable downtime of major features. This I think was mainly the result of an over-zealous release schedule.

Another significant failure of myspace was the lack of democratization. As Murdoch and company pushed more mainstream (and paid) content the user became less involved in the stream of information and the stream of information being delivered began to blend in with all the other mainstream media.

Facebook began to take over in large part because the users control the stream of information that is delivered by keeping the sponsored content unobtrusive. The content any individual user receives is then more suited to their tastes because it is delivered by their friends - not paid sponsors. Facebook also thrives on obligations. When you get poked - you poke back. When someone comments on your page you comment back - on myspace almost every comment you would get would be filled with bad html, loud videos that auto-played and spam from that band in Iceland that you never noticed you befriended.

Usability is among the reasons for the demise of myspace but it is hardly the only reason. Thing about it is - Facebook will probably suffer a similar fate somewhere down the road as tastes change and investors demand more return. It's just the nature of things.

14
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I have really no prejudice against mankind in terms of sense to design, but I'm absolutely sure (and I have also experienced it) that most people have no sense to create beauty - and it's not some kind of negative judgement, they are great in something else. If I consider that I'm not good in eg. law or politics I don't want to do those things - it's not my speciality. But please, don't let everybody to design - for the same reason (and I don't even say, that I'm expert webdesigner - not yet, at least - but I think I have a little more sense to it than eg. most lawyers).

That's why I think, that letting people to have this kind of freedom on MS was a key reason of it's end (or downfall) - I left myspace for the same reasons: my eyes can't bare such a big visual noise, everything was different - differently ugly… The another reason was the music players and the big amount of flashing banners which permanently killed my OS (both on win and on os x), I won't visit a website which is ugly and kills my system, right? I don't think that the UI was worse than it's on FB, but if I can't use a good UI because of something else, well… I won't use it…

16
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kurren, again, please stop talking. You don't seem to understand what UX encompasses. To say that Apple's success has nothing to do with the ease-of-use of their products and lump it in with the stereotypical anti-Apple argument (wherein some of your remarks don't even make sense)? Such an old and tired point of view.

Simplicity is UX. Simplicity sells. Apple's made a hell of a lot of money from iTunes purchases and I don't even need to touch on the Mac App store; so why you tried to even bring that up is beyond me.

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Edit: any time soon.

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The thing is that they didn't even realise what their USP was - they lost the social network battle several years ago, but they did (and still do) have every single band in the world. If they ever realise that and do something with it, instead of quixotically trying to compete with FB, then they might find a reason to exist. I'd say their true market is with the LastFM/Soundcloud crowd, but sadly I think their owners, the inexorably out of touch NewsCorp (they of the Times paywall #fail) won't be pushing in that direction any time of soon.

If you haven't already read them, check out Andrew Dubber's various blog posts on it - I think they sum things up perfectly:

http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/happy-quit-myspace-day.html
http://andrewdubber.com/2010/09/myspace-now-with-glitter/
http://newmusicstrategies.com/2010/10/23/the-time-has-come-its-quit-myspace-day/

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Historically, I don't think customization itself is the problem. I think it stems from the lack of design in the default layout and look. Ads everywhere. Lots of clutter. They also lagged behind in terms of features and got swept by. This includes content. Ask anyone that tried building for MySpace 3-4 years ago and the technical infrastructure of pages was a huge hindrance as well.

I would also argue that users are not dumb. The types of survey questions you ask largely shapes what kind of information you get. There are lots of studies that wisdom of the whole works out quite a bit. But surveys have a lot of problems identifying problems when they pop-up without the right context or with poorly designed questions. They can be really helpful in many cases. It won't get you the next revolutionary step though. That is where the politics of MySpace gets in the way. I've heard that, at least historically, they were so marketing driven that the core of features got away from them and that for the right price, pretty much any company could put up any crap they wanted. Innovation died as marketing took over and the UI reflected it.

13
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Reading kurren's comments makes me feel as if I stumbled into a preschool classroom right before nap time. Clueless...

12
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@bochelord Now tell me that Apple's success is not based on UX...

Well, is not.

In terms of UX as HCI (which is what most people AND 'profesional' think of when talking of UX), most of Apple innovation actually comes from Xerox Parc.

When Apple actually started to design its own stuff they come up with iTunes (probably the only cross-platform software Apple made) - I don't think it's woth spend any time talking the flaws of iTunes, or its Social Network Ping.

Then came OSX, that is basically a skin over a BSD OS, that as almost all Mac OS runs only on proprietary hardware. You might 'hate' Window or Linux, but they run on 1000s of different hw/components combinations.

Apple so into computing that they even got rid of the word 'computer' from the company name - to better fit into what they want to focus: selling expensive gadgets.

The fact that there's people queuing all night outside an Apple store to buy an iPhone, or that they defend their toy against all criticism as it were their life, look really similar to fans lining up out a theatre for the Start Trek marathon or (with the due differences) religious extremists. The behaviour is the result of a simple process, it's called marketing.

If you consider UX, not HCI (even if the latter still is a bit weak as well), the iPhone is quite poor: you are restricted in the what software you can use to upload music/videos (I know you can 'hack' this) or the browser or if you are a developer the path to get an app published is a via crucis. The antenna-gate? The usability of the iPad?

Should we spend 2 words on the Mac App Store? Or the Apple website?

Back to MySpace, there's obviously a component of terrible design and UX/IA that contributed in the failure of the website - but it's really not the main issue which was essentially strategy (or lack of) and management (poor).

Facebook is as poor in terms of UX/IA and broad usability as MySpace is.
But FB's engagement power is tremendous, and again most of it marketing driven, and strategy built.

Content is part of UX (again, not as in HCI) and easiness of creating, accessing, sharing, engage, enjoy content is all part of a successful and rewarding User Experience. All things that Facebook does very well so much better than it does good old UX (as in HCI/IA/Accessibility/Usability package) AND so much better than all products (gadgets) Apple.

14
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Is it possible the failure is actually the result of a complicated mix of numerous failures, including UX, marketing, and business strategy?

14
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The problem with MySpace is that they allowed regular users to be both content producers and designers for their pages. Facebook does not allow users to design pages and instead relies on users only for their own content.

I remember a client that asked us to add content management features to their website only so they could quit paying our hourly rate to make regular updates. The website was a disgusting mess within 3 weeks because most people do not have design sense and are simply incapable of recognizing that they are producing crap.

I'm not sure I am comfortable commenting on the usability of Facebook due to the fact that it is one of the most "used" sites in history. Additionally, Facebook is the first social media site that deeply connects people and the the content that each person is producing on the site.

12
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Good article. People can ask for features but it's up to professionals to decide when and how to put them in. Testing and task analysis are always good tools during the design process. Focus groups are pretty useless for requirements gathering. Individual interviews and surveys can be useful in that but the group think in focus groups is better suited for marketing. Last thing, Apple talks to users like crazy, they just don't hire them as designers.

13
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The reason I left myspace is because the pages took so damn long to load and repeatedly caused my browsers to crash. Add to that the 'feature' allowing any moron to post a 1000x1000px .jpg to your page. Another reason was the shameless self promotion. Musicians weren't there to network, they were there to sell, and that irritated the sh!t out of me, despite being a muso myself.

Some commenters on here seem to think that UI and UX are not related to content. How strange. Myspace is a great example of how the UI allowed the content to be heinous, creating a hideous UX.

16
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I don't know why people is still denying that UX has anything to do with it...
Actually even if you don't know what in the world is UX (see Tila Tequila) their answers are the same:
"Is not simple anymore", "Profiles are clunky and crappy", etc...

Now tell me that Apple's success is not based on UX...

15
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To everyone who said, "It's not Usability!"

"Even Tila Tequila, the model and rapper who achieved fame by building an audience on MySpace, has switched allegiances. In 2006, Time magazine called her the queen of MySpace, but these days she prefers Facebook.

“I just lost my passion for MySpace,” she said in an interview, adding that she does not even remember her MySpace password, even though her page still lists 3.7 million fans. “I haven’t logged on because it’s not simple anymore.”"

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/technology/internet/12myspace.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&ref=technology

13
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I'm one of the many who left MS a long time ago. I can agree with most of the postings above - to some extent.

Yes, the target audience is one reason why Facebook succeeds over MS (MS = teenager = inconsistency: we all grow older by the minute)

Also, customization can be fun but MS took that to a level where it became unbearable for the intellectual user as well as the web design and web development experienced user.

Finally, as mentioned above, content is king. Lately there was not much of "content" to speak about on MS (when MS started one at least could find some good new music there). Self-portraits of youngsters for their own sakes just isn't enough.

14
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I think it's important when considering UX (and customization in particular) to think about it in the context of users, demographics, and content, and not just in isolation.

Sure, all the MySpace customization led to bad UX (and maybe it was kind of crappy to start with). But I think the larger problem is that a heavy emphasis on a) music, at least originally, and b) extreme customizability, tended to skew the appeal of MySpace towards the tween/teen audience, and the less, er, intellectual side of it at that. MySpace offered themselves, intentionally or unintentionally, as something like the equivalent of the inside of your middle/high school locker. Should it be any surprise that the resulting content was more about showing off than being useful?

Look at Facebook's initial target demographic, on the other hand: college students. Some similar self-expression is invited, but at the more sophisticated level of those who have "moved out" and are forging an adult identity: what are your favorite books and movies, what are you thinking about or engaged in doing, who have you lost touch with that you'd like to find again, what kind of person are you (becoming)? The leap from there to a general appeal to adults (queue the complaints from 20somethings about their parents joining Facebook and friending them) is not so hard to make. (I'm not saying Facebook doesn't appeal to younger people too, but I think it does for different reasons than MySpace).

The kind of users you attract, and the things you encourage them to spend their time with you doing, is especially important for a site where virtually all the content is user-generated. So in a sense I agree with bb_matt, though I think he's only half right: it's about the content, but the UX (along with other things) funnels people in certain directions on the content they make.

10
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Interesting post by Aaron Sagray:

Dissecting the demise of Myspace

"Great user experience is certainly a contributor to a user adoption, but I don’t think it is the single factor that makes or breaks a company, as much as us UX designers would hope it does (job security and all)."

http://www.sagray.com/2011/01/12/why-facebook-won/

@Alan H: oops, I commented again ;)

15
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Interesting post by Aaron Sagray:

Dissecting the demise of Myspace

"Great user experience is certainly a contributor to a user adoption, but I don’t think it is the single factor that makes or breaks a company, as much as us UX designers would hope it does (job security and all)."

http://www.sagray.com/2011/01/12/why-facebook-won/

@Alan H: oops, I commented again ;)

15
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I am working on a social media network as a UI/UX designer and we have for a long time discussed the customization issue. After running some tests we concluded that customization has many sort falls and yes in most cases has to do with the fact

"People like customizing, but they don't like it when other people can customize too."

I don't know if this was the reason of the downfall of MS but I can tell that this was the reason I have left MS long time ago.

13
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More over the usability or customization,reason for all success behind each applications are upto how early the idea or feature gets understood or clicked.

I've read few articles on Twitter users. 60% of the new users leaving the application within one week. But 80% of them are coming back once they understand the actual idea behind "Tweeting"

16
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Thank goodness!!! And I really appreciate the comment re: multiple programs and or background activity!!! REALLY! I felt violated and that's why I left...

12
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My 69 year old mother uses Facebook. She would have *never* used MySpace.

MySpace is for the younger generation and predominantly about music. Facebook is for everyone and about everything - an operating system more than a destination.

I personally don't think MySpace is a failure. It may be for those that have lost their jobs - never a good thing - but that's the nature of working life these days. Ventures are born, grow, evolve and die at a much faster rate. Few jobs are safe so be prepared.

MySpace has been a failure for its investors. Tough luck. They took a calculated risk and lost out. They remain wealthy and will not lose sleep over this.

MySpace's evolution will interesting to follow. I think management are clever enough not to want to take on Facebook and build something unique and cool.

15
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With features easier and easier to obtain, usability, design and customer service really all that can distinguish products, and Myspace really is a great example of this. People complain about walled gardens, but who really wants to use software, rather than just use software to get things done?

10
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I think that is a great point about having the ability to over customizing ones page, a vast majority of people are not familiar with UX and how it works and here they are "designing" their content.

When you get people creating individual pages which go outside of functionality and accessibility then you get a natural reaction to sway away from difficult content / MS page, a slow but sure death and repulsion for users.

What to do now though, is it that hard to see?

13
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I agree 100% with John P. Myspace was a train wreck I could never get into because the pages were so horrifyingly bad. I actively avoided any Myspace pages because of how offensive the pages were.

Facebook isn't and anybody who thinks Facebook's UI is 'unusable' can go speak to my 80 year old granny and ask her what she thinks. On Facebook.

15
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None of you like being told you're an idiot, but none-the-less, that is what this guy said and what's more is he's right. People in groups and general don't know what they want until it lands in their laps. If you've ever held a customer service job for any length of time you'd know this.

The main reason I and many other people I know left myspace is because of the horribly designed pages. FB may be Boring, but it's functional and easy to navigate, and for the most part MS and FB do same job. MS pages are a mess code wise, you can't read the content, and are train wrecks in general regarding ui.

FB initiated tight controls on their look, a focused execution on user experience, and kept the core of what they were about simple. That is why they are more successful.

16
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I just tweeted my theory about the collapse: allowing customization. I agree with kurren in the sense that it wasn't UX or usability.

MySpace became like the worst of Geocities websites, but even more obnoxious because they were interactive. FB has never allowed that level of customization. Maybe that's not THE reason why FB has succeeded, but it certainly helps maintain consistency if everyone's profile looks the same. It's a relief knowing that if I go to a stranger's FB page, I will not be confronted with animated backgrounds and 12 gifs plus a video and an .mp3 all playing at the same time in the background.

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"people, for the most part, have no bleep idea what they want until it lands in their bleep laps."

Massively negative sentiment that I have to disagree with emphatically. It's so generalised, it's insulting.

Myspace death has nothing to do with the design aspect of UX, but rather the *content*

Some of the worst designed websites in terms of UX can have excellent content, likewise, some of the most amazing UX designs can be little more than eye candy.

Content is king - and lets face it, in terms of User Experience, Content wins every time. The navigation / browsing / accessibility of that content is the icing on top.

Yes, you can create UX so terrible, that good content can be rendered inaccessible, but that's a very small percentage case.

There's nothing worse than a smug designer - if you cannot think like your audience, you've failed. What your audience wants, first and foremost, is interesting content.

12
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kurren,

Never post another comment.

Thanks.

16
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This is, quite frankly, b***hit.
MySpace failure has nothing to do with UX, Facebook is just as bad for UI and usability. It was purely a series of wrong marketing decisions, poor management and lack of vision.