Why Facebook is Beating (has Beaten?) Myspace

June 22, 2009

Let’s Compare

What you’re looking at are the compared numbers of unique visitors for Facebook and Myspace. That last couple points on the graph shows Facebook with 113,014,638 unique visitors, and Myspace with only 56,885,691. While Myspace has stayed pretty consistent around the 55 million mark, moving down only 5.61% in unique visitors over the past year, Facebook has been rocketing up, with a 253.74% increase in visitors. This puts it at more than double Myspace’s number of unique visitors last month. So there’s little argument here, Facebook is beating Myspace handily. What we’re here to discuss however, is why, and what lessons you can take from a website which started from nothing and overcame a social networking giant.

So what makes Facebook better than Myspace, what’s been attracting and converting all those users? I’ll break it down to the few factors which are key in the success of any website.

The Breakdown

Design

Facebook has two main things going for it here: Simplicity and Consistency. Every single page on the site has about the same layout with a very easy to look at, easy to navigate design. Every profile is well organized, especially with the new tabbing system they’ve employed, which keeps unattractive apps out of the way. Design was probably one of the biggest complaints I heard about Myspace when people began to convert from Myspace to Facebook. Every Myspace profile is different, but almost all of them have one thing in common, they’re an unattractive, confusing mess of colors and boxes. This is a case where Myspace has simply given its users too much freedom. Anyone who knows their way around html, or found some embed code on a website, can manipulate their Myspace profile. Let’s do a quick visual comparative analysis. Feel free to click on the images to see them in more detail.

 Sparkles Myspace ExampleDan Facebook Example copy

Each of these is a very typical profile page, the top being Myspace, the bottom Facebook. Notice that the Myspace page has a custom background, custom font color, and custom button texture among other things, all of which make it very difficult to read. Perhaps the most confusing feature of the Facebook page at first glance is the “news feed” in the center of the page. This is a constantly updating list of you and your friends’ activities. After one becomes acquainted with the news feed it’s quite easy to understand. Besides that, the Facebook page is very simple and visually pleasing. You may also notice that last names and private information are blacked out on the Facebook page, while the Myspace page is completely uncensored. This is because the Facebook page I used was set as private, and I could only access it because I’m friends with that person. In Facebook terms that means one of us requested the other as a friend, and the other accepted. Generally, all Facebook pages are private like this one, or limited, as in the user has set only certain parts of their profile as viewable. The Myspace page, on the other hand, is completely public and open, as most Myspace pages are. Which brings us to our next topic…

Ease of Use

As far as personal privacy goes, Facebook makes it extremely easy for users to hide information from certain people or to keep private information you don’t want to be public. So if you want close friends to be the only ones who can view your contact info, it only takes a moment. Myspace also has privacy settings, but they’re far less specific, and essentially boil down to setting your entire profile as viewable only by friends, or entirely public. When it comes to adding friends, Myspace actually has an easier process. What’s interesting is that this is not necessarily better. If you want to add a friend on Myspace, you’re pretty much one click away. The problem is that this has created a community in which individuals essentially compete for the most friends, with having friends be people you actually know not really a concern. This “friend-rush” on Myspace weakens the community as a whole. Users on Facebook, contrarily, usually are only friends with people they actually know from school, work, or family. This makes all the functions of Facebook infinitely more useful and viable. Myspace can never effectively have things like photo albums and events because those things are only effective when shared among people you want to share them with. Another factor which affects the simplicity of adding friends is the search function. Surprisingly, facebook actually has a more effective search tool than Myspace, even though Myspace’s search is backed by Google. The major difference is that Myspace’s search sifts through whole profiles, even if you’re just searching for someone’s name, while Facebook knows if you’re looking for someone you knew in college or a movie in someone’s interests. It also lets you segment your search into things like people, pages, groups, and applications. This superior search also makes it easier to navigate Facebook overall.

Media

I mentioned earlier that features like photo albums will never work as effectively on Myspace as they do on Facebook. This is because of the extremely refined social aspect of Facebook’s photo service. When someone posts a picture on Facebook, they tag the faces of friends who are in the picture. The friends who were tagged are notified in an email from facebook, and the picture is added to that persons profile. If one could represent this visually, it would be an extremely complex web with connections between people who have taken pictures and the people who are in them, and between the different people in the pictures. Facebook actually lets you search as such, letting you search for pictures with certain people or within another persons albums. Not to mention that with Facebook’s apps, users can now add Flikr and other photosharing site streams to the applications tab of their profiles. Myspace’s photo service has the benefit of being supported by photobucket, which was recently bought by Fox. Facebook clearly wins in this category.

Community

Community is the backbone of any social networking site. I brought up earlier how Myspace users’ obsession with “friending” has weakened the community overall, while Facebook’s is strong because it is based on real, personal connections. Facebook recognizes and bolsters this superiority with the news feed. Essentially whenever you get on Facebook, you’re presented with everything that’s new with your friends. If they’ve posted any pictures or videos, edited any information about themselves, joined any groups, you know about it. This keeps the community strong by keeping users interested in one another, constantly viewing various friends’ profile pages. Myspace has no such service, and therefore very little reason for users’ to view anyone’s profile but their own.

Usefulness

There are quite a few reasons Facebook is more useful than Myspace. With Facebook, it’s extremely easy to connect with old friends or classmates because the whole system is organized by “networks.” This could be your school, your office, or the area in which you live. This, combined with Facebook’s effective search function, makes it relatively easy to find anyone you happen to be looking for. While you can find people on Myspace, there’s much less emphasis on the “connection” aspect. Friending someone on Myspace is more like an acknowledgment of existence. This is probably because Facebook is a much more effective communication tool. People are much more likely to check a wall post on Facebook than on Myspace. This is mostly because people who have Facebook accounts are generally more actively checking their Facebook, some more than their email. However, for everyone else, Facebook sends you an email when you get a wall post or a private message. Because of the aforementioned network system, Facebook is a very effective tool within any sort of group. You can stay in touch with what your coworkers are doing in your office network, or stay up to date on the upcoming events within your school network. Someone’s who’s going to college next September might join that college’s network or even the specific group for incoming freshman of that college to get to know their future classmates. Essentially, Facebook as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because each part is a gear in a well oiled and extremely effective machine. Once you get to know the different features and really start to take advantage of them, it becomes an invaluable tool.

Lessons to be Learned

  1. Stay Simple and Consistent: Maintain a consistent and easy-to-look at, easy-to-use feel throughout your website. No one should have to spend more than a few seconds looking for certain buttons on any page on your site. Pages shouldn’t change in layout from one to another. After a user has gotten to know one page, they should be capable of clicking around without pause without any necessary learning curve. Another great example of this is the extremely popular site Craigslist, or even Google.
  2. Recognize Your Strengths, and Make Them Even Stronger: Facebook recognized the strong basic connectedness of it’s community, and integrated even more services to help them connect and stay connected. If certain aspects of your website or online service are drawing more users, recognize that popularity, find out what’s making it popular, and bolster or multiply that feature.
  3. The Features of Your Website Should Be Well Integrated, and Should Build Upon One Another: One of the reasons Facebook is such a good service and is so easy to use is because each of its features is integrated with the other features. The search tool, network system, picture and video applications, group’s, pages, developer applications, and news feed all work together to build any individual user’s facebook experience. This system is similar to Apple’s, as I mentioned in an earlier post. The idea is to create a personal universe, where once the user uses one part of the service, they can only benefit by using other parts. With Facebook, like any good website, company, or service, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
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