Can Justin Timberlake bring the sexy back to Myspace?
That’s the question the singer-actor tried to answer Thursday during a glitzy unveiling of the redesigned website that was once the world’s largest social network.
Last year, an Orange County advertising network company acquired the website, once worth $65 billion, for $35 million. Timberlake took an ownership stake and a lead creative role in the site's reincarnation.
The new Myspace team scrapped what was left of the old social network, much of it bogged down by banner ads and devoid of users, and re-coded it from scratch. That was the only way they stood a chance of shaking the stigma of the old Myspace, executives from controlling company Specific Media said Thursday.
"There’s no clever marketing tactic, ad or slogan," Specific Media Chief Executive Tim Vanderhook said. "We know we have to go out and re-earn the respect of a highly skeptical community that doesn’t know what we stand for."
In the mid-2000s, Myspace began losing users as Facebook grew in popularity. Undiscovered artists and the users who loved them were the only ones who stuck around. In 2011, a survey of registered users on Myspace found that 60% continued to stay on the site in hopes of being discovered, according to Forbes.
As expected, the new Myspace capitalizes on the connection between artist and fan. The site provides music from large record labels and independent artists for free. Artists and users can create profiles and interact with each other. All interactions native to other social networks (Like, Follow, Friend, etc.) appear on Myspace as "connect."
"You hear so many times from an artist, 'How do I bridge the gap?'" Timberlake said. "It’s this type of interaction that [lets them] connect even closer to fans."
During a test-run with the beta version Thursday, the new website seemed sleek and uncluttered. Each page has a magazine-like layout with a horizontal scroll, light sans-serif fonts and high-resolution images. A navigation bar with a built-in music player that plays while browsing appears at the bottom of the window.
The website features a number of music-related functions, including "Discover," which is aimed at helping users discover new music. Myspace creates those recommendations through hand-curated content from an editorial staff, as well as an algorithm developed by Myspace that examines users' browsing habits and connections.
In the "stream," like a newsfeed, fans can "connect" with their favorite artists, similar to subscribing on Facebook. If a user shares a photo or video from an artist and generates a large number of comments or re-shares, that user could end up featured — in a nostalgic nod to the Myspace of old — on the artist’s "Top 8" section of their profile.
Artist pages include a list of similar artists, influential artists and a playlist, which links to any existing music videos. The new Myspace also provides artists with analytic information about who their fans are, including age, gender and location.
On profile pages, users can upload a high-resolution background image and — in another nod to the old Myspace — choose a "profile song." A record of the user's recent activity appears to the right.
A handful of people, including Timberlake, are using the new Myspace during its beta-testing period.
The website has two privacy settings: public, or available only to friends. There is no way to group friends or connections and share selectively among them.
For now, the new Myspace has no ads. Specific Media management and Timberlake say Myspace will eventually pay for itself through revenue from advertising that is visually appealing and integrated into each user's content stream. That may require some companies to change the way they produce or think about their advertisements.
"Brands—anyone we partner with—have to come in with open eyes and open ears," Timberlake said. "They have to take their own heritage and rework it in a way that fits into our world."