Let’s all go back to Geocities
The decay of an online social space cannot always be pinned on corporate ownership. Online communities tend to mirror the shortcomings of the real world–racism, exclusivity, and class privilege. In a presentation at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum conference, social media researcher danah boyd asked what really separated users of the older My-Space from the newer Facebook. MySpace, started by the advertising company eUniverse as a rival to Friendster, has always had a low bar for entry, allows users to remain anonymous, and enables more customization of profile pages. Facebook, by contrast, was born at Harvard as an online version of freshman–orientation “facebooks.” It slowly opened admission to other Ivy League universities, then most colleges, and finally to the public at large. While both sites enjoy about 70 million unique visitors, in recent years wealthier, more educated users “were more likely to leave [MySpace] or choose Facebook,” boyd said. “Those who deserted MySpace did so by ‘choice’ but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.” She continued, “What happened was modern day ‘white flight.'”
Dana Boyd’s 2007 paper on this trend can be found here. The online viewing habits of enlisted military personnel versus officers is particularly interesting.