Services & Software

Early MySpace Was the Peak of Social Media

The late 2000s were a golden age of social media, and MySpace was king. Here's why.

Early MySpace was the best.
Igor Golovniov via Getty Images

In 2022, Facebook has 2.91 billion active users, making it the most-used social media platform. But to me, it will always pale in comparison to early MySpace.

Founded in 2003, MySpace was the first social media platform for many people. Facebook was founded a year later, and despite its early restrictive membership practices, the number of Facebook users would soon accelerate past the number of MySpace users. MySpace is still around, but the number of site visitors -- not even active users -- has dropped to mere millions

Despite that, early MySpace was better than every version of Facebook. For those who remember early MySpace, it was a learning tool, it helped us form our identities and it expanded the music landscape.

MySpace introduced people to coding

One of the most defining features of early MySpace was the ability to customize everything. Don't want a boring white background? Change it. Want to change who shows in your top eight friends? Maybe tell your friends first, but you could do it. I even remember adding a cartoon dog named Lightning to my page that visitors could interact with by giving the pooch virtual treats. But to do any of this, you had to learn a little HTML and CSS. Though there were many, I recall a MySpace user named "Profile Master" who wrote tutorials on text effects and Javascript. 

The skills people learned from MySpace may have introduced people to careers or opportunities that would help them throughout the rest of their lives. HTML, CSS and Javascript are some of the basic tools web designers use every day; they make around $57,000 a year on average, which is about $6,000 more than the average American's wage. The number of web developer jobs is also expected to grow by about 13% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

With simple HTML and CSS skills, you could turn your MySpace page into a virtual room or a digital school locker, a place that showed off your unique personality and interests. But when you sign up for any version of a Facebook account, you're stuck with the default template. In 2011, Facebook allowed people to add cover photos to their profiles, but otherwise, everyone has the same cookie-cutter white background and blue outline. It's not as engaging, and it doesn't help you learn new skills.

MySpace has since removed the ability to customize your page's code, but it was one of the site's best features.

It helped people develop their own voice and identity

Very few people used their real name on MySpace. People used nicknames or made-up names, allowing them to develop their  identity free from familial or past constraints. One University of California study said, "MySpace provides emerging adults with new cultural tools for… personal, social and gender identities." Being able to customize your page was part of this, but so was blogging. And an AOL study from 2005 found that blogging on MySpace gave people an opportunity to safely express themselves.

This opportunity is especially beneficial to members of the LGBTQ+ community who might struggle with their identity or safety. A 2016 study from ConnectSafely, a digital wellness nonprofit, found that about 73% of LGBTQ+ youth were more honest online than in real life and that anonymity helped them express themselves. Being able to express yourself in such a way can help solidify "a coherent sense of self." The anonymity and freedom MySpace gave its users helped many people, especially LGBTQ+ youth, to be their authentic selves and connect with others in the LGBTQ+ community

MySpace introduced a lot of new music to the world

Music was a focal point for early MySpace. Artists could open MySpace pages, upload their music directly to the platform for people to listen to, sell merchandise and publicize show information. Bands could also interact directly with their fans. 

MySpace also helped many musicians grow their fan base and supplement their rise to fame. The masked metal band Ghost uploaded demos of their first album to MySpace. "48 hours later the band was already being approached by all kinds of people," frontman and lead singer Tobias Forge told Revolver Magazine in 2018. Panic! At the Disco, who had barely 3,000 pageviews at the time, used MySpace to find their final band member with a simple post. And future Grammy winner Adele signed to XL Recordings at 18 years old after then-A&R executive Nick Huggett saw some of her demos via MySpace. 

adele.jpg

Adele was one of the many music artists who first gained attention on MySpace.

Adele/VEVo screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It was better for personal interaction

If you log in to Facebook today, you might feel obligated to wish a friend you never met in real life a happy birthday or to like a business page one of your friends from high school sent you. You'll scroll past ads to buy products you were looking at on another website, or ads for pages you have no intention of clicking on. You might even see an older family member's comment on a post from a group you aren't in. Facebook's general clutter can feel like moving through an email spam folder.

When you logged on to MySpace 15 years ago, your friend might send you a funny cat video. Maybe someone changed their top eight, knocking their significant other out of the top spot and sparking drama. Perhaps a band you like releases a new song so you can listen to it on repeat. Ads were on the periphery of a MySpace page, but they weren't the focus and they were easily identifiable. You never had to filter out posts in order to get to what you cared about. MySpace allowed people to share and build intimate moments and communities with others.

Early MySpace is gone, but there's hope

MySpace isn't what it once was, but another social media site is trying to pick up where it left off. SpaceHey launched in late 2020 and has a lot of the same features, including the layout of early MySpace. It's free to use -- and maybe, just maybe it can bring back that magic of early MySpace.

For more on social media platforms, read about how many people use Facebook and Twitter for news, the launch of former President Donald Trump's social media app Truth and how many Americans think social media should censor itself.