What happened to Myspace, anyway? One day, it was a hot property, a Microsoft acquisition target, the next big thing. Now it’s the seedy outer suburb of social media, a place where movie theaters serve cheap rum and young professionals in aspirational demographics no longer go looking for a date. And it happened really quickly.
Could the same thing now be happening to Facebook?
It’s easy to spot the overt symptoms of a social network losing its cachet. Tasteless profile customization, processor hogging special effects, and a preponderance of user avatars resembling anorexic Taiwanese betel nut girls were leading indicators in the case of Myspace. Facebook has largely avoided looking trashy by enforcing a dress code. Even the most obnoxious Facebook apps are confined to the staid corporate blue and white of the standard profile. Users who want to set the makeup gun on “whore” and point it at their profile have largely been kept in check.
But class is more than skin deep. Sure, there were users who bailed on Myspace because, in the words of one user, “Myspace has become a trailer park.” Where Facebook really won the social media war, though, was in keeping the content of the site useful and relevant by curtailing spammy user behavior.
Fan pages are the best example of this. A lot of people bailed on Myspace because every time they visited the site, they were seeing a dozen friend requests from bands, promoters, and porn sites. Facebook’s fan page model meant that if you made a band profile on Facebook, you couldn’t make it a personal profile without knowingly violating the ToS. And Facebook fan pages can’t go around randomly friending people they don’t know; fans have to opt in of their own accord. You can suggest the page to your friends, but that’s it.
So far, this has worked well for Facebook, but where there’s a spammy will, there’s a spammy way. In recent weeks I’ve become concerned that Facebook isn’t enforcing their ToS. I’m seeing friend requests from profiles that clearly aren’t people. I’m also getting friend requests from people with very large friend networks to whom I have no connection. Generally, they’re local music or club promoters. A burst of irrelevant, spammy messages every time I open up my inbox is exactly what drove me away from Myspace.
Facebook needs to enforce their ToS so that people who are on the site to do business stay in the fan page realm. Hopefully, they can do this in a more even-handed fashion than Twitter, a company that has alienated a lot of people by suspending accounts based on sweeping criteria that locked out legitimate users along with spammers. Facebook needs to work on this, and they need to do it sooner rather than later.