You’re in MySpace
Playing nice on MySpace
Socially anxious types, take note: Advances in technology are offering you more and more ways to insult your fellow human beings. The potential pitfalls of e-mail are already bad enough, as anyone who’s ever inadvertently hit “reply all” can attest. But with Web sites like MySpace.com becoming increasingly popular with tech-savvy teens and twentysomethings, new realms for giving and taking offense are being created. But, never fear. By the time you finish reading this guide to MySpace etiquette, you’ll no longer have to worry about making an electronic faux pas.
Claim your space
First off, what is MySpace? Like Friendster, it’s a social networking site where you can chat with friends, look up old classmates or meet new people. Music-lovers can check in with their favorite bands for news and tour updates or browse for new music. Bloggers can write long, contemplative essays about whatever’s on their minds and share it with the world. And there are groups for seemingly every hobby and interest imaginable, with forums for everyone from sword enthusiasts to candle-lovers to people who share pictures of their pets wearing costumes.
Launched in January 2004, MySpace now has more than 58 million members, and more than 5 million new members join every month. At first, the site was mostly visited by teens. But as word-of-mouth has spread, it’s become popular with people in their 20s and 30s, too. It’s also a handy tool for musicians—more than one million artists and bands use the site to promote their music and connect with fans. MySpace even released its own CD recently, MySpace Records Vol. 1. It features songs by Weezer, Dashboard Confessional and other popular indie/emo bands.
Getting started on MySpace is easy, and registration is free. When you sign up, you create a profile for yourself. You’ll be asked to give your first and last name, a valid e-mail address, your birthday and your zip code. (These won’t be visible to other users unless you allow it.) You’ll also pick a permanent MySpace name, which can’t be changed because it also becomes the Web address for your blog. However, your display name—the name that actually shows up on your profile, above your photo—can be changed at any time.
Next, you’ll need to add a profile picture. Many people use photos of themselves, but it’s also common to see pictures of users’ kids and pets, drawings or images from TV shows and movies. You’re allowed up to a dozen pictures with captions, and your friends can also add comments (which will be public). You can change your photos—including the image you designate as your main profile picture—as often as you want.
You can also fill in personal information about yourself, such as the schools you’ve attended, your job history and qualifications and your networking affiliations. (This will help all those long-lost friends track you down.) If you’re interested in dating, here’s where you specify your marital status, sexual orientation, religion, drinking and smoking habits and whether you have kids. There are sections for listing your favorite books, movies, music and TV shows, as well as any other interests you may have. Finally, the “About Me” section is the perfect place for adding anything else you want people to know about you.
But the most popular feature of MySpace—customizing your profile page—isn’t even officially part of the site. It’s surprisingly simple to do thanks to a multitude of Web sites that offer ready-made color schemes, animated images and video clips for free. You don’t have to be a programming genius; just copy the chunk of HTML code provided, and paste it into your profile. Image-hosting services like Photobucket.com also allow you to upload digital pictures (or copy them from anywhere on the Internet) that you can paste into your profile. In just a few minutes, your personalized profile page can be complete.
With friends like these …
Once you have your profile the way you want it, you’re ready to start building your network. The search function allows you to look for someone using their real name, their display name or their e-mail address. Make a general search of MySpace users with the browse function. Depending on how specific you want to get, you can search by gender, age, zip code, ethnicity, appearance and more, just like you would with an online dating Web site. Your search will return dozens, maybe hundreds, of results, each of which will take you to a user’s profile.
So what happens when you find someone interesting? On a user’s profile page, click “Add to Friends” to send them a friend request. As soon as they accept, you’re MySpace friends. Your “Friends List” consists of all the people whose requests you’ve accepted or who have accepted yours. Just like in real life, some are very picky about whom they call friends, while others simply want to amass the biggest clique they can. In general, it’s considered bad form to send someone a friend request without exchanging at least one or two e-mails first, and many people will simply delete requests from strangers.
Remember the “six degrees of separation” game, where anyone can be connected to anyone in six steps or less? MySpace takes that even further. Since your Friends List is publicly viewable, any of your friends can see and contact anyone else, and everyone’s just one degree apart. So if you’ve been griping about your roommate to a classmate or sharing juicy stories about a co-worker’s love life with your friends, all with the idea they’d never meet each other—well, now might be a good time to stop.
Although your entire Friends List is visible on a separate page, only your “Top 8” friends appear on your profile. Those eight coveted spots can lead to some fierce competition—and to wounded feelings. A change in the lineup can easily trigger a storm of messages and comments as friends speculate about why someone got kicked off your Top 8. Some users even feel that the ranking within your Top 8 has significance, though others say their Top 8 simply represents the people they correspond with most often and not necessarily their best friends.
The absurdities of MySpace have been spoofed in a short film, MySpace: The Movie. The film pokes fun at familiar MySpace experiences, such as the time-consuming and undignified process of taking a good self-portrait with your digital camera or “the angles"—those deceptively flattering photographic angles that make even the most unattractive girls look hot. You can watch the movie at www.davidlehre.com/myspace/play.htm.
With all these seemingly trivial points to keep in mind, joining MySpace may seem like tip-toeing through an etiquette minefield. But, in fact, most of the time-honored social rules still apply: Don’t talk behind people’s backs. Don’t play favorites. Don’t tell lies. Keep those guidelines in mind, and you’ll have fun making MySpace yours.