VIRAL POSTMORTEM  |  What Did MySpace Mean?

From the forefront of social networks to "a mistake" almost overnight.

The rise and fall of MySpace is the epic social networking tragedy of our times. It’d be straight outta Shakespeare, if he had friended strangers online.

It needed only two years after its 2003 to syphon up enough users to sell to NewsCorp for $580 million and was soon the most-visited site in America, maybe. Then Facebook happened. NewsCorp cut it loose in 2011 for $35 million, albatross prices, with Rupert Murdoch calling its acquisition a mistake. Overnight MySpace went from a pioneer and a titan to a quaint little Internet backwater where you probably still have a site you never visit.

MySpace is so past its prime, it’s easy to forget its one-time word-of-mouth appeal as a weird site where you could find new music and flirt semi-anonymously. But it stagnated, terribly. Facebook changed constantly, forced people to use their real names, sanitized the experience, and brought social media to aunts everywhere. 

MySpace reportedly still has access to over a freaking billion registered users worldwide, 465 million in the United States alone. Those are astonishing figures, even if no one visits anymore. It’s a ghost town, mined mostly for Throwback Thursday photos on Instagram or Twitter, assuming you can still remember your password. 

The beginning of the end was 2008. That spring, Facebook finally caught up to MySpace’s numbers, attracting 115 million monthly visitors. A year later Facebook surpassed MySpace’s traffic for the first time in the U.S., with 70.278 million visitors to mine for merciless amounts of data.

Even poor Tom, MySpace’s co-founder and everyone’s very first friend, saw the trajectory. He had the wherewithal to cut and run in 2010, before NewsCorp’s fire sale. He’s still a user. His last post, in June of 2013, was to let everyone know he listened to 20 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers songs.        

Things looked rough until a shining beacon of cash, a white knight with formerly frosted tips and silky smooth dulcet tones, told America don’t be so quick to walk away. Justin Timberlake swept in with some future sex and some love sounds, part of a $35 million deal in 2013 to resurrect the site. It kind of worked.

In April of 2013 MySpace posted a respectable 10 million unique views; that shot to over 49 million by January of 2014. As of April 2015 the site still garners 25.7 million uniques a month — nowhere near the billion registered users it boasts, but respectable, even compared with Facebook’s 149 million or so monthly visitors.

MySpace is recasting itself as a way to link users to their favorite musicians, even if people can get the same information these days from Sam Smith or Ariana Grande on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Success without adapting pushed MySpace to the edge of obsolescence. We remember it today as a social networking dry-run, now frozen in amber — and still a place where you can visit the 2006 version of yourself.