Myspace's revamp might have come too late for its backers but local bands still swear by it, reports Scott Kara.
Way back in the mid-2000s - when Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter was yet to be born - Myspace was king of the social network sites. But since then it's been on a downhill slide.
While NZ seems to have bucked that trend with only a marginal decline - for the simple reason Kiwi users don't use Myspace as a primary social networking site and instead go there mostly for the music - on a worldwide scale it's in trouble.
However, the powers that be at Myspace are counting on a bold new revamp of the website and a shift towards "social entertainment" to reverse its declining audience and revenues. There is also speculation that its second coming could dress-up the business for a face-saving sale by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which bought Myspace for NZ$752 million in 2005.
Rolled out in New Zealand and Australia last week the new look and focus cleans up the notoriously ad-saturated, cluttered pages, introduces a real-time feed more than reminiscent of Facebook's news feed and adds new sharing features, including cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter. It will, they say, be easier and slicker to use.
And then there's the "content hubs" for movies, television and celebrities (with games, comedy, sport and fashion hubs to follow), and a focus on "curators" from within the Myspace community - blokes like Stephen Fry, comedian and new technology guru - who have specialist knowledge on entertainment and cultural trends.
Nick Love, managing director of Myspace Australia and New Zealand, says to differentiate from other social networking sites Myspace is focusing on sharing and discovering content. "That's where Myspace's future is. We've always been really good at unearthing new cultural trends, especially around music. We see an opportunity to become a leading social entertainment destination on the web, which really means it's powered by fans - and particularly fans around certain passions and subcultures."
These days, Facebook so dominates social networking that it is difficult to remember Myspace's own time in the limelight. It claims now to have 130 million active monthly global users, but internet metrics analyst comScore puts the figure at 90 million for September 2010 (down 18 per cent year-on-year), compared with Facebook at 620 million users for the same month (up 51 per cent in the past year).
And this week News Corp put Myspace on notice saying the current losses were not sustainable.
But Love defends Myspace by pointing out it is still a top 10 internet brand with 100 million users. "We're still a significant business. What we've seen is the market has changed and what we were guilty of was a lack of focus because we grew so quickly at the beginning and we let the internet move on past us."
He reckons Myspace's new path is not trying to bridge that giant gulf between it and the Facebooks of this world.
"We're not trying to be Facebook. We're in different categories. What [the revamp] does do is help define where we sit in the world and having done that it means you can grow."
Overseas however many musicians, like British bass player Steve Lawson, signed up to "Quit Myspace" day last week, exasperated by what he describes as a site that has been playing catch-up with more innovative rivals since 2006.
"I didn't delete my Myspace page as a protest," he says. "I deleted it because it added confusion to my web presence. It was an ugly, clumsy, inaccessible version of information that was available in a much better form elsewhere."
Love believes music is still at the site's core - especially in NZ where "more than anywhere else it is seen as a pure music site".
And ask almost any New Zealand band or musician the easiest way to hear their music and they're still likely to tell you to check out their Myspace page.
"It's right there at your fingertips - and it's free," says Opshop's Clint Harris, who has been the band's Myspace master since 2005.
"Back then it was still relatively new in New Zealand and it did take a little while for people to catch on but once they did it was all go.
"The songs are right there. We upload whatever we want, whenever we want. And it's not only for getting our profile and music out there, but for letting people know about gigs and what we are up to."
Ben Howe, the business development manager for Independent Music New Zealand (IMNZ), says smart bands will stick with Myspace because it is still a strong magnet for search engines.
In New York recently, at music industry showcase CMJ, with up-and-coming acts Street Chant and Family Cactus, Howe urged the bands to keep their Myspace up to date. "[They] were saying Myspace is history but I say, 'No, make sure your Myspace is up to date because if somebody goes away and googles them then Myspace will come up in the top couple and they will see all the gigs that Street Chant are playing in New York."
What: Myspace gets a revamp
In New Zealand: Myspace had around 400,000 users in September and is bucking the world-wide trend with only a "marginal" decline in user numbers.
- TimeOut / Additional reporting Observer, AP