Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Throwdown: Social networking sites vie for users' affections

(By Anna Cole: Originally published in the University Journal, January 26, 2009.)

Like any self-respecting Internet addict, I spend a ridiculous amount of time surfing those delightful places that are fondly known as "social networking sites" - namely, Facebook and MySpace.

As the first trend on social Web sites, MySpace has the advantage of experience. It enjoyed its overwhelming fame long before Facebook entered the scene.

However, fresh ideas bring fresh faces, and Facebook, in its relatively short heyday, has far surpassed MySpace's value as a cyber social gathering.

While MySpace does have its uses, they seem primarily centered on blogging and self-expression. Great if you want to document your life, not as useful if you're trying to keep up with someone else's - which is what socialization is all about.

MySpace's flashy layouts, bulletins and page comments simply aren't as conducive to an active social site. Having to search through one's friends just to find an update on how he or she is doing or who said what to whom is far too much effort.

Facebook's neatly centralized social center puts all the updates in one place, so all I have to do is scroll down to see that Mike is eating some chocolate chip cookies and that Jane commented on Max's photos. Not specific friends - although you can specify some if you like - but just friends. All together like friends should be.

Comments and wall-writing are a few more aspects of the social scene that Facebook has perfected to outperform MySpace, specifically in the areas of status comments and wall-to-wall function.

MySpace has friend statuses, of course, but no area for public comment on them, and I love that I can comment on statuses with Facebook.

For instance, my cousin and I (nerds that we are) love to have lyric and quote wars on our statuses. If she posts a song lyric as her status, the challenge is for me to complete the lyrics in the comments without looking it up.

Besides the obvious advantages of social interaction, photos and statuses - as if we needed more - Facebook also provides variety from everyday boring life by means of pirate talk.

It's easy to get tired of plain old English. One might get tired of "writing on the wall," and might instead get the urge to "scrawl on the plank." You can visit your Bottle o' Messages instead of your Inbox.

The wall-to-wall function for posting is also excellent. MySpace comments are all well and dandy, but I'm oftentimes rather hampered by the format, simply because all it shows is the comment box. I'm fairly scatter-brained at times and don't always remember what I wrote before. So when Pinky-Girl25 leaves me a comment that says, "That's so funny! I think so too," I don't want to have to scroll all the way down her page to figure out what I said that she agrees with.

Wall-to-wall is the antidote to this problem. I can click "wall-to-wall" and see our entire conversation to find out that Pinky-Girl25 also thinks that mustard would be an excellent topping on chocolate ice cream.

There are other excellent recommendations for Facebook as well. Advertisements, the ever-present plague, can be tailored to fit one's interests more closely. If I'm tired of weight-loss advertisements (which I most certainly am) I can mark the ads as "misleading," "uninteresting," or "offensive," depending on my level of dislike for the ad.

MySpace ads, mostly sporting obviously doctored weight-loss and beauty photos, are there to stay. Need a girlfriend? A boyfriend? Perhaps both? MySpace knows just where you can get them, and they've all got a crush on you. It gets annoying after a while.

Finally, even MySpace recognizes Facebook's superiority in the Internet world. Not that they say it in so many words, of course. I did notice, however, that every single innovation that made Facebook unique and desirable has been shamelessly copied by MySpace.

Applications - those cute little quizzes that tell you which of the Jonas Brothers you should marry, or show how many countries you've been to, or let you keep a cute little virtual pet - showed up on MySpace long after Facebook had begun using them.

The "People You May Know" function that analyzes friends that people may have in common also appeared on MySpace within the last few months. I notice far less accuracy in the matches on MySpace than on Facebook.

While Facebook analyzed not only my friends, but my college and area networks to cross-reference and find possible matches, MySpace matches seemed to consist of suggestions based on one or two other friends. While Facebook found friends of mine from as far back as elementary school, MySpace found people I'd never heard of in New York and Jamaica.

I could cite hundreds of other examples why Facebook is better than MySpace, but I suspect I've rambled long enough.

Suffice to say, Facebook's advantages are overwhelming. You can poke me if you think I'm wrong, but beware, I might just poke you back.

Anna Cole is the University Journal Opinion Editor. She can be reached at

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