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Hot on the Web

The grownups find MySpace

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 12, 2006
(Issue 2419, It's Child's Play)

For most adults, has been either an item on the evening news or in the morning paper or something else their teens are involved with that they need to worry about.

But increasingly, adults are also finding MySpace to be something they can use in their own life.

For the uninitiated, is an online social networking site. You create a small profile about yourself, upload photos if you want, and then you can search for others by geography or interest. It's completely free and advertising driven – the only rules being no pornography (not that it doesn't slip through), no threats and that you have to be 14 or older to comply with federal privacy legislation.

It was the kids who were the early adopters, of course – and the media has been full of MySpace horror stories since its founding in 2003. We've had stories of kids being seduced by child molestors via MySpace, kids threatening to kill other kids on MySpace, and of parents learning horrible secrets about their kids on MySpace.

A quick search of "MySpace" on Google News turned up more than 6,000 news articles just from the past few weeks.

Still, there is more to MySpace than being the media's current whipping boy.

I plunged into the MySpace world a few weeks ago at my day job as a music and entertainment reporter for the North County Times. A local band, This Holiday Life, referred me to their MySpace page for more information on upcoming shows. I found that I could listen to up to four of their songs, read their biographies and subscribe to their blog so I can get new show announcements, or any other information they want to send me.

By going to the Music section, I was able to search for local bands and sort them by how many times their profile had been visited or their songs listened to – to determine the most popular local bands. I started subscribing to blogs by local bands right and left: it's a remarkably useful way for me to tap into the San Diego music scene, to learn more about the bands the kids are listening to (hey, I'm 44, and none of us can stay hip forever!) – important tools all in my job of trying to cover San Diego's music scene.

Useful all the way around

In addition to being the most important online site for musicians to self-promote since's first iteration went away, MySpace also allows you to stay in touch with your fellow classmates from high school or college. With more than 70 million registered users, MySpace far outstrips the 40 million registered users on the more specialized

You can also set up what MySpace calls "Groups" – which are online forums built around any topic you like. The Groups interface is intuitive and easy to set up and administer. And your group gets its own URL – making it pretty darn handy.

And each MySpace account can have its own blog.

So your account has:

  • photo gallery
  • video
  • alumni communities
  • blog
  • instant messenger
  • forums

And it's all free.

You can even use as an online dating service, although the interface and search options aren't nearly as useful as those of the specialized online dating services. Still, it's free here – unlike the online dating services.

Is it any wonder the adults are starting to flock to MySpace?

Increasingly, I find people my own age on MySpace. My high school alumni page has folks who graduated ahead of me on there now, as does the San Diego State alumni page. Even many of the bands on there are middle-aged farts like me that play classic rock, jazz or bluegrass.

Cool, eh?

Political uses, too

While Howard Dean made noise a few years ago with us upstart bid for the Democratic presidential nomination built around the use of the site, MySpace has even more political reach than that specialized site (which is built to help people organize around their interests).

During the recent student protests of proposed federal legislation on illegal immigration, Latino students were reported to be using MySpace as part of their efforts to organize walkouts, marches and rallies (cell phone text messaging and Internet instant messaging were also used to help these students communicate beneath their parents' and school administrators' radar). For all the talk of these Latino kids being a foreign influence that might destroy our country's existing character, their Web-savvy approach to organizing shows how Americanized they've already become. We've co-opted them, even if neither they nor we realize it.

For that, we have MySpace to thank – at least partially.

Likely to continue growing

As mentioned, isn't necessarily the best with any of its features. What has made it a success, and promises to continue its growth (it was bought last summer for $580 million by media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.), is the fact that it rather seamlessly integrates a variety of online tools into one easy to use interface.

With its fun focus on building a network of online friends, the ability of users to post comments on their friends' pages, and the fact that most up and coming bands (and, increasingly, established popular bands) are flocking to MySpace, its unlikely to lose its reputation for being cool any time soon.

Even if mom and dad are joining their kids on MySpace.