Can Justin Timberlake bring Myspace back? The question has been on the minds of online observers since the multi-hyphenate announced his investment in the troubled social networking company last year – and yesterday, he offered a first look at the answer. At a small but swanky press gathering at Los Angeles' SLS Hotel, Timberlake and co-owners Chris and Tim Vanderhook presented the new Myspace, which sees itself as an artist-centric service focused around music.
"We never looked at this as some sort of rebranding or reinvention. This was for us a completely new platform," Timberlake told a group of reporters. "The name was acquired but I think that was a good thing for us. The important thing up until this point . . . was to really give it an identity."
Music was crucial to Myspace's initial popularity, providing a soundtrack to user pages and helping bring artists from the Arctic Monkeys to Soulja Boy to prominence. But when newer networks such as Facebook and Twitter pulled away members, what had been a $580-million-dollar company went into free-fall, landing in the Vanderhooks' and Timberlake's hands for $35 million – with its once-vaunted streaming abilities running behind competing services such as Bandcamp and SoundCloud.
For artists, the new site may well bring Myspace back to the forefront. Constructed from almost entirely new code, Myspace retains a few of its most beloved features – a section for top 8 friends and a streaming profile song – but the site is now a crisp, design-forward presence full of high-resolution images and a horizontal activity stream that offers a more magazine-like experience. A bottom bar controls music playback and contains quick links to notifications, chat and user profiles; mousing over it reveals a queue of songs and videos built automatically or by clicking and dragging. Starting to type will automatically open a search page organized by artists, users and media formats.
After user personalization left Myspace looking like what Timberlake calls "the Wild West," the site now strives for simplification. Instead of separating music, photos and videos, they're combined in multimedia collections called mixtapes that place playlists and images side by side. Instead of friends, followers or like buttons, Myspace users "connect" – to another user, a song or other items on the site. Navigating from videos to tracks to friends' updates is intuitive and seamless, with full-screen videos able to cleverly continue minimized playback in the site's right-hand corner. Users can share outside content from YouTube and the like, but the Vanderhooks hope they'll draw upon Myspace's own sizable library.
"What a lot of artists told us, is how do you make this my space?" Chris said. "‘I use six to seven different social platforms. I have to be a technology wizard, all I want to do is record, I want to get it out to my fans.' That hit home for us."
Along with major artists such as Timberlake, Myspace is the home to 5 million unsigned acts, who the trio said can benefit from in-depth analytics that reveal where fans are listening from, among other information. The site's discovery-focused editorial section will serve as one guide to Myspace's range of content, while links to "similar artists" and "inspired by" pages will allow fans to dive down playlist rabbit-holes. Influential listeners will see their fandom pay off with their own spot on the artist's pages and the potential to connect with them.
"Imagine you're at a show at Staples Center, there's one fan who's singing harder, dancing harder, and you want to bring them up on stage," Timberlake said.
He also hopes to foster artist-to-artist communication and collaboration, giving fans the opportunity to listen in. But much of that depends on the revived site's success in winning over former users and a younger generation raised on the likes of Instagram and Tumblr. Myspace's new house hasn't been completely unpacked yet, either: Timberlake's own page is full of mixtapes and updates, but a quick perusal of other top pop stars revealed pages still in the works. Sorting Taylor Swift's music by album, for one, brings a pair of karaoke collections to the screen. For the moment, the site is invite-only, giving Myspace the chance to develop and clean up before a wave of users moves in.
At the very least, the revamped platform is an attractive, promising home for artists and their fans – though if Timberlake himself has new material to share, he didn't hint at it yesterday. Instead, asked about users laboring over learning the language of another social networking site, he stressed the ease of its learning curve. "If I can learn it, anybody can," he said, smiling.
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