Is MySpace the Right Space for Your Children?

It was only three short years ago that began its new life as a "social network service"—the technical term for a website where people can create their own web pages and post virtually anything about themselves and—with obvious legal ramifications—others.

Now, with about 80 million users (a reported quarter-million sign up every single day) who have created individual profiles, MySpace ranks in the world’s top five English language websites. Its prolific growth rewarded the two creators, best described as Internet lottery winners, when they sold their baby in July 2005 to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for $560 million dollars. Quite a profit for a 24-month-old business.

Obviously, anyone paying that sort of a price for a web property will want to do everything possible to maximize their revenue, and that means getting their site in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Already a popular Internet stop for teens and twenty-somethings, MySpace continues to attract new members at a phenomenal rate, making the odds quite good that if you have an Internet connection and a teenager, your offspring may be already making use of this service.

Massive popularity aside, most of us in the thirty-plus arena—and especially busy parents—really don’t understand what MySpace is all about, or we may have heard one of the many negative media reports about the website. To help you gain an understanding of this phenomenon, it’s important to first understand why your teen is so interested in spending time on a site that really is nothing more than a free place to host a web page or two.

There have been and still are many other web companies that will provide some room for a small website at no charge (typically these sites and MySpace create revenue selling advertisements on the pages of the sites they host), but MySpace was the first to capitalize on bringing a mix of elements together. Like its competitors, you can build a basic page with some personal information about yourself, but you can also share your photographs (similar to a photo sharing website), author a "blog" (a sort of virtual diary that is easily updated), send instant messages to other MySpace patrons through the site’s own messaging system, upload and share videos, and—perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the site—"collect" friends.

This last feature is what seems to spawn the greatest loyalty for MySpace. Each individual can encourage, invite, coerce or bribe people to become their friends. By exchanging a link with each other, their profile picture and name appears on your MySpace page, along with an indicator of how many "friends" you have. Just like baseball cards, Pokemon or action figures in cereal boxes, you collect people on MySpace, and when there’s something to collect people keep coming back. Perhaps more insidious, you can decide who your best friends are and feature eight of them permanently on your page (referred to as the Top 8).

The next activity that shot MySpace into orbit was when music companies and movie studios began to recognize the huge branding and word-of-mouth advertising possibilities available. A haven for independent music artists, thousands of musicians are creating profiles and putting samples of their music in front of the ears of millions of young members who are all wanting to find the latest cool sound that no one has yet discovered.

With video distribution possibilities, indie filmmakers are also using the site to show off their talents. While most videos on MySpace are strange bits of household life—like someone’s gerbil chowing down an oversized cracker in ten seconds—small time producers to full blown major movie studios are trying to find their niche amongst this impressionable audience. For instance, Universal Studios decided to try this technique for their recent release of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Here’s the page they set up to do just that:

You’ll notice that even these commercial pages still offer the friend-swapping ability, which encourages guests to the site to keep looking around for more easy pickings that will increase their total friends score.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…