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Hands on: Have you heard about this new Myspace thing? It just might work …

myspace logoA few months back when Justin Timberlake tweeted a link to the new Myspace, we all took notice. The trailer showed off a great-looking redesign, had catchy music, and … well, it didn’t hurt that Mr. SexyBack himself was at the helm.

But trailers like this are a dime-a-dozen. Any social or digital startup worth its weight has a promo video that makes it look like the second coming of Facebook, so the skepticism over the ability of a product like Myspace to crawl back from the darkest corners of the Internet was thick.

This week, Timberlake, along with co-owners Tim and Chris Vanderhook, as well as other execs, engineers, and designers with Myspace gave us hands-on time with the site, and an account to call my own. Read on to see what it looks like when a massive social network comes back from the dead …

Navigation

While Myspace’s overall user interface shares a lot with other social networks (profile page, people hub, a cover photo), there is one huge, glaring difference: The content stream moves horizontally instead of vertically. Instead of looking up and down, you’ll start seeing sideways. Track pads will still work here. Dragging will take you to the right and through each hub’s respective stream of content.

Hovering over a post brings up a box from where you can interact with the content – for instance, letting you add a song to one of your playlists, or simply “Connect” with it (more on that later).

navigationOn the bottom of the page, you have the media player that follows you around throughout the site. It holds your music queue, and you can pause, play, or skip from here. Videos automatically fill your screen, but if you want to browse the rest of the site, they will pop into the lower right-hand corner and you can pause and play (or hit full screen again) from here. This also houses some general navigation, like a way to get back to your own profile as well as notifications and messaging.

Hidden on the right-hand side of the screen is a right rail that brings up options for commenting or connecting when you click things in your stream. 

The horizontal stream is a bit disorienting at first, but you get used to it, and — like a lot of similar iterations of the concept appearing as responsive design becomes common on the Web — it’s a sort of a refreshing change of pace.

The preferred nomenclature  

Consider this a brief glossary of Myspace’s terms:

Connect: This is the term for “friending” or “liking” content on the network. You can connect with anything — a song, a photo, a person, etc.

Mix: A Mix is a playlist — or a photo gallery. Or both. Like “Connect,” these can be any type of multimedia content. Photos, videos, songs — or any combination of the above. The idea is to create digital experiences.

affinity iconAffinity: Affinity is what you have in common with someone or something. It measures your activity, posted content, listening history, and other connections (be they people or content) and then you get projections on other content you … well … have an affinity for. Myspace says it will be a key factor in a future algorithm to keep the stream smart and personalized once the site becomes more active and faces the same filtering issues Facebook deals with. In related news, I find it incredibly amusing that co-owner Tim Vanderhook posted this Mark Cuban tweet to his Myspace feed.

vanderhook post cuban

Spaces: An upcoming feature that will act like an app platform as well as external connecting function to integrate with outside sites and platforms. No one was able to say much about this feature; it’s very much a work in progress. 

Search 

Myspace’s most impressive new feature is its search function. It’s an element that’s generally broken or ineffective when it comes to social networks: Twitter only recently introduced the Discover hub, and Facebook’s own efforts are decent at best (although, there’s apparently much in the company’s future when it comes to search). Myspace, however, has a good-looking, functioning search tool in its beta.

ra ra riot search

In order to access Myspace Search, you simply need to type. Yes, that’s it. There is no “search bar” or field that you click on first. Just begin to type whatever it is you want to find — an artist name, a user name, a song name, a location, whatever — and the words magically take over your screen and results start filling in below.

The content is segmented into categories; i.e. artist, song, album, person, etc. It should be mentioned that for all the aesthetic appeal here, it is unintuitive. We’re used to looking for the search bar, and like the rest of Myspace, it’s something that will take a bit of getting used to. But, I’m usually prepared to take something down a few notches — just because you’re doing something different doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. I found Myspace’s search function to be appealing, innovative, and a remarkably fast way to find content on the platform.

Your old account

While you might think that MySpace (the old one, with the uppercase “S” that was so cool a million years ago) has withered into a pitiful state, full of little more than spambots and a handful of 20-30 year olds who didn’t get the memo, that’s not the case.

Even in its decline, Old MySpace has remained a fairly active platform for new, aspiring, and local artists — and they’re probably not going to love the site’s policy for legacy users. “We’re starting from scratch,” says Ali Tahmasbi of Myspace product management. “But there are lots of people that have invested in the old profiles, so for a period of time they will coexist.” Which is a nice way of saying get ready to pull those two accounts up side-by-side and replicate what you’ve got!

There is an option when you register for the new Myspace to grab your original profile, but the features and mechanisms of the new platform are so different that much of what you’ve got going on over on Old Myspace isn’t going to translate — it’s really just a way to claim your old username and login info, if you prefer to keep that the same.

The silver lining that anyone like me will see in this is that those old profiles you’ve forgotten the login information for will finally, finally be deleted. I’m honestly very excited about this because I was using some archaic Hotmail address that I cleverly made at age 15 and since abandoned, so I’m thrilled it’s finally going to be wiped out. I know I’m not the only person out there that feels this way. Sorry, new, aspiring, and local artists, but I’m celebrating this. 

Discovery

It should go without being said that the new Myspace is focused on artist discovery (be it music or anything else — the team really wants you to understand that this is an equal opportunity platform for all creators).

discovery The Discover tab is segmented into Trending, People, Music, Mixes, Videos, and Radio categories. These separate streams show you what’s popular, your contacts (or connections, as Myspace refers to them), popular playlists users and artists have made, and more. Music and Videos have their own subcategories, so you can find new content by high rotation, new releases, or what’s recommended. The Radio feature is a Pandora-like function to find similar content.

Trending can be anything: At the moment, much of it is populated by editorial content from the Myspace team, and it’s pretty impressive. There’s an article written by a girl who’s gone on the road with Rihanna’s tour, as well as an exclusive about up-and-coming hip hop artist A$ap Rocky. A Myspace rep tells me that the company has put together an editorial team to create this content.

Navigating all this is still a little strange, but, while we’re not used to this kind of endless scrolling, we’re becoming increasingly familiar with it — thanks in part to the site everyone’s been comparing to the new Myspace. Pinterest made everything visual and a little chaotic, and that’s the same idea Discover’s aesthetic mimics.

Profile

main profile pageThe profile, as Myspace puts it, is your blank canvas. Technically speaking, you get a profile picture, a cover photo, a short self-describing blurb, and then a few elements from the old site — the top eight, and your profile song. While the top eight used to be a way to rank your friends, Myspace says they think this will be populated by artists.

The cover photo — which has quickly become a social network stable — is full page, and the network will require you to use full-res images in order to keep the quality of the site high. It’s certainly a nice look, but that means your awesome Instagram library isn’t going to help you here.

profile page mixesEach profile allows you to see a person’s Photos, Connections, and Mixes (which again, can be composed of any type of media).

Overall, user profiles are pretty simple, but like the rest of the site they’re also sleek and it’s clear Myspace wants you to pay attention to your Connections and not necessarily what your profile looks like. 

There isn’t much in the way of privacy settings. There is a hub where you can choose to have a totally public profile or a private one, where only your connections can see it — there’s nothing more sophisticated than that with the exception of private Mixes. In a digital world where we’re used to Circles and Groups and Lists, this is pretty limited, and it doesn’t address the myriad issues that will come up as the site grows, adds functionality, and monetizes.

One of the most creative ways to discover and connect with new users and music is a feature that let’s you listen to all of your friends’ profile songs, making a social playlist right then and there. It’s an innovative, interactive use of the profile.

Conclusion

Let’s keep this short and sweet: Myspace has a lot against it. It’s a platform that faded from glory right in front of our eyes, which means it doesn’t have a lot to lose. The new look is bold, different, innovative, and refreshing. Even if you know nothing about Myspace or social media in general, you will immediately like how it looks. 

There are some growing pains in getting used to this new format, but it’s interesting and intriguing, and I was left with the feeling of wanted to dig in — to keep playing and building.

As someone who’s always been disappointed by Pinterest but realizes its aesthetic value, the deeper functions and abilities of this network have got my attention. The question, of course, is can it keep it? That remains to be seen, but as the network grows and features (like mobile apps, which are in the works, says Myspace) are added, you’re surely going to want to at least dive in and try. Which honestly, is something of a victory for a site that not too long ago was the butt of the Internet’s joke.