Blogger Danah Boyd is getting a lot of attention for an essay she recently published which compares the user bases of MySpace and Facebook. In it she broadly states that MySpace users tend to be less educated, counter-culture folks and Facebook users are more educated, mainstream folks. Of course she’s setting herself up to ruffle a lot of feathers by establishing stereotypes at all, but does she have a point?
Well, maybe she does. But the point she is making becomes a lot less interesting if you remind yourself how social networking works. When selecting a social network, a young internet surfer does not visit all of the top social networks and carefully consider the look and feel and feature set of each one before committing the time to build a profile. He or she doesn’t consider if the user base in a given network is educated enough or counter-culture enough for them. They go where their friends are. It’s that simple.
MySpace was started by a couple of guys who wanted to give free web space to indie rock bands and their fans. Facebook was started by a guy at Harvard so that other kids at Harvard could get together online. They both stayed in their respective worlds for a long period of time before they really got popular. So is it really surprising that their user bases still reflect the characteristics of the original members? We all know how social groups work – people recruit more people like them. That fact is as old as jocks not hanging out with geeks in the high school hallway. So Danah’s observations are at their best uninteresting, her 2000 visits to Myspace pages kind of like someone dropping 2000 tennis balls off of a second story deck to confirm the fact that gravity exists.
It doesn’t really matter who started these websites at this point. What’s more interesting is who’s running them now and what each of them will do to attract the other’s audience.