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Lost in MySpace
Log on, tune in, and hook up with 22 million people online
It’s my space now

Whenever MySpace president Tom Anderson wants to communicate with his site’s 22 million users, he posts a message that appears above every user’s inbox. So earlier this week, when word went out that NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate and the world’s largest newspaper publisher, planned to buy MySpace’s parent company, Intermix, Anderson was quick to quell rumors that his insanely popular site would become a whitewashed, privacy-invading, creativity-stifling environment.

Latest Update: 02:11AM PST, Friday, July 22th. Many of you have asked about NewsCorp buying MySpace. (You can read an article about it, by clicking here.)

Everyone seems scared that MySpace is going to change. I'm not leaving, and I'm still making the decisions about the site, and I'm not going to let things suck.

The rumors people are reposting in bulletins are not true: 1) we are not going to become a pay site. 2) we are not increasing advertising. 3) we are not allowing anyone to monitor the site. 4) we are not deleting any content or censoring people in any new way. (we’ve always deleted nude pics and hate speech) 5) we are not exploiting anyone’s data or violating anyone’s privacy.

MySpace has been my life for almost two years now. I know its as important to others as it is to me. I won't let it get jacked up.

Clay N. Ferno isn’t too surprised to see NewsCorp buying MySpace. He’s just hoping Anderson means what he says. "If usability is altered in any way, or MySpace goes offline, that would be a real bummer," he writes in an e-mail, while dusting himself off after a night spent celebrating his newfound fame. "Big Brother might be collecting information about us through this acquisition. But you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit: they are doing it right now in a billion different ways. If you start to think about that, no one would get anything done: we’d just fall down the rabbithole."

So far, the sale isn’t stunting the site’s growth: in the last three days, Tom Anderson has gained 279,406 more friends.

Clay N. Ferno is a DJ, a whiskey drinker, a stoner, a metal-head, a writer, a spoken-word guy, a part-time doorman at the Middle East, and the frontman for a six-month-old rock band, Wild Zero. The 29-year-old MassArt grad likes to be photographed crashed in trash piles, firing a toy ray gun, dressed up like Eddie Munster, and sticking out his tongue. He likes Citizen Kane, the Pogues, 24, bats, quantum physics, and Caddyshack. And he just might be the most popular person in Boston.

I know all this from Ferno’s MySpace profile, the online home he updates three or four times a week and logs on to every day. Within this world, he has an inordinate number of friends: 3493 as of this past Tuesday. He’s friends with Stacy, a 23-year-old Freddy Krueger fan who likes to be photographed in a spaghetti-strap cocktail dress, blood-spattered and clutching a chain saw. He’s friends with Vazquez, long-haired bassist for suburban rock band Damone who aspires someday to be mayor of Waltham. He’s friends with Catherine, a "lonely beach bum pot head" Floridian who wants to meet Jesus, Mary, and God — in that order. And he’s friends with me.

Ferno and I are "MySpace friends." That’s different from real-life friends, casual acquaintances, or Outlook contacts. For one, I see Ferno’s face every time I log on to MySpace, where my profile lists all my friends, including Ferno — who’s become quite the "Internet networking-service celebrity" in the words of his MassArt classmate "Markwood." From a blog entry linked from his personal page, I know that when Ferno started a new job two Mondays ago, he spilled yogurt on his orientation paperwork and keyboard by 10 am. I also know from one of his bulletin entries, the MySpace equivalent of a mass mailing, that when he did a spoken-word Misfits-themed event at O’Brien’s in Allston two Thursdays ago, some crazy stranger defecated right in the middle of his early-evening set. I know all this, yet Ferno and I haven’t had an offline conversation in three weeks.

Launched officially in January 2004 after a four-month public beta test, the social-networking site MySpace.com already has a staggering membership of 22 million, with two million new members joining per month, according to online market researcher comScore Media Metrix. Not only does MySpace have 10 times more registered users than Friendster did at its zenith (1.7 million), it also logs nearly 7.5 billion page-views a month. That makes MySpace the fifth-highest-ranked domain on the Internet, surpassing both Hotmail and Google. The only Web sites visited more than MySpace.com are Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, and eBay.

For the 18-to-34-year-old demo, the site has become a secondary e-mail account, another address to check after a drunken night at a club, and a way to gawk secretly at hot friends-of-friends. Users post photos, delineate personal tastes, type blog entries; musicians upload songs, photos, and biography information; event promoters use MySpace bulletins like online fliers. There are also MySpace groups, subset communities that unite users by their interests: Boston Bar Hoppers, Red Sox Nation, even the Amber and Boston Rob fan club. And just about everything that’s posted on MySpace can be commented on by another user. In a sense, it’s like a yearbook that never gets outdated.

At this point, MySpace’s influence extends far beyond the Web. Last month, two North Shore high-school students used MySpace to promote an animal-rights protest against Kentucky Fried Chicken in Saugus. This year, new records from Nine Inch Nails, Black Eyed Peas, Audioslave, Billy Corgan, and Weezer have all made their exclusive online-streaming debuts on MySpace — and Billy Corgan maintains his own page. Two weeks ago, a Random House junior editor, registered on MySpace as Bluegirl24ny, got fired for kvetching about her boss on her blog, which Gawker then picked up and released to the world.

Occasional experiences like that, however, are hardly driving away users, who are drawn to the site’s seemingly endless capacity to customize their public faces. "MySpace is really all about ‘Come online and have an experience that’s totally personalized to who you are,’" says Jamie Kantrowitz, MySpace’s 28-year-old vice-president of marketing. "Everything from the bands and music that you interact with, to the television shows you like, to your friends and other lifestyle interests — whether that’s religion, politics, you name it — MySpace created a way for people to put their lives online."

Time well wasted

MySpace is a rabbit hole. Cruise through Clay N. Ferno’s 88-page friend menagerie of tattooed, buxom, kohl-eyed acquaintances, and somewhere on page 11 you’ll find sometime masked wrestler Miss Firecracker. Peruse the Pawtucket-based performer’s page, scope out her friends, then detour to a spot devoted to La Hornita, her rasslin’ queen-bee alter-ego. From there, your mouse moves to a black-and-white thumbnail of a shirtless guy zipping up his fly over a toilet bowl. Upon further inspection, you discover his name is "Houston Bernard" and he’s a Brooklyn-based bisexual electropunk rapper hyping a kitsch-sleaze CD, Whores Have More Fun. A quick peek into his list of 28,094 friends unearths Jackie, a dreadlocked 23-year-old who one day wants to be a Suicide Girl; "Beetlejuice," an LA-based new-wave goth with spiky hair lubed into an asterisk; and "MySpace Slut," a chubby Pacific Islander promotions guy whose entire photo gallery consists of him uncomfortably groping Hooters girls and other half-naked women. His list of 2497 friends consists mostly of bodacious models in bikinis and lip gloss — until you stumble upon Cheryl, an innocuous-looking dirty blonde whose "all-time favorite band is Third Eye Blind." Cheryl writes, "I am a pretty cool chick … with a hot ass. Besides that, I am currently employed with the Alameda County Superior Court, criminal division." Suddenly, it’s 45 minutes later and all you’ve learned is that millions of people have way too much free time on their hands — yourself included. MySpace is the ultimate time suck.

The photos on MySpace constitute a major part of the site’s voyeuristic appeal. They are an entirely different breed from the usual dating-site images, which tend to be bland and awkwardly posed. MySpace photos are ugly, strange, costumed, and tasteless. Self-portraits shot in bedroom mirrors are common. Guys guzzle 40-ounce bottles, bite guitar necks, wield nunchakus, tug down their shorts. Girls blow gum bubbles and show off their cleavage.

For all that, it seems to bring together the like-minded — for whatever purposes. Sam Nashawaty has 234 MySpace friends. He’s says he’s slept with about 10 of them, after dating 15. That’s something like half the people he’s ever slept with.

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Issue Date: July 22 - 28, 2005
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