Comments on Danah Boyd’s article about MySpace

On: October 18, 2006
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About Anne Helmond
Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Program Director of the MA New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative research collective where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies and web history.


MySpace logoI’ve only been using MySpace for about half a year now and I can’t say I’ve been using it intensively. I’ve “only” got 39 friends of which thirteen are artists and six are venues I often go too. I use it as a notification tool or as a substitute of the mailinglist. Artists and clubs used to have mailinglists to notify their fans about upcoming events, but nowadays MySpace is used for that same purpose.

I hardly use the comments tool and I often forget to reply to my comments because I have to log in and retrieve the comments after having received a “a friend posted a comment about you” e-mail. This is a smart move, because they don’t actually show the comment in the e-mail, you have to log in to be able to read or reply to the comment. For me this is a big step which I am often reluctant to take, because I am from the e-mail generation.

I no longer belong to the majority of MySpace users who are between 14-24 years old. Danah Boyd gave a talk about these teenagers on MySpace and rewrote it into an article titled “Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace.” In her article about how teenagers are using MySpace she addresses three issues:

  1. Identity production
  2. Hanging out
  3. Digital publics

In the part about identity production she only briefly mentions the aspect of the visual aspects of the profiles.

The dynamics of identity production play out visibly on MySpace. Profiles are digital bodies, public displays of identity where people can explore impression management [2]. Because the digital world requires people to write themselves into being [3], profiles provide an opportunity to craft the intended expression through language, imagery and media. (Source)

She then turns to the aspect of comments which are an important part of the profile. I think more can be said about the visual production of identity on MySpace. Just as clothes and looks are incredibly important for especially teenagers so is the visual appearance of their profile. Even though no research has been done it seems that teenagers are more prone to “pimp” their profile than other users. A search string on on “pimp my profile” returns 5.070.000 results. Nine out of the first ten results refer to pimping your MySpace profile (the other result refered to pimping your Hyves profile which is a Dutch kind of MySpace). It is a big business.
Danah Boyd mentions three important classes of space: public, private and controlled and says that most of teenagers space is controlled space. She draws an analogy between private space in the interstices of controlled space and a bedroom with closed doors. I would like to extend this comparison with the bedroom even further. Teenagers literally transform their MySpace page into their space by completely adjusting their space to their personal taste. It’s like their personal bedroom where there are no parents complaining about the amount of posters on the wall.

MySpace profile

Viewing a MySpace profile often feels like entering a personal bedroom. There are posters everywhere, the CD-player is playing while the TV in the corner is also on. Friends are dropping by and leaving notes. The amount of information that can be added to a profile is incredible: favorite bands/books, sexual orientation, height, weight, interests, previous schools, current school/university, religion, currently listening/watching/reading, hometown, e-mail, instant messenger, marital status, movies, body type, etnicity, birthday, and so on and so on. This can lead to an overwhelming amount of (visual) information on display on the profiles. The average profile reminds me of the 1990s webpages with their animated gifs and blinking colored letters. Am I getting too old for this? Or are the teenagers rebelling against web standards and usability (Weiss)?
It would be interesting to conduct a study about the differences in the use and display and pimping of the profiles.


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