By Jason Kelly, courtesy of the University of Chicago Magazine
Photo by: Dan Dry/University of Chicago Magazine

On her MySpace page, Julia Angwin, AB’92, has 32 friends, the social-networking equivalent of desert-island isolation. It’s just not her scene, though she has tried her electronic best to find kindred spirits out there.

“This is after spamming everyone in all my different email boxes. No one in my demographic is on MySpace despite the 75 million unique visitors every month,” Angwin says. “Everyone I know is on Facebook.”

She reflects the stereotype of Facebook, which launched in 2004—about six months after MySpace—exclusively for Harvard University students. Facebook established networks on 30 campuses nationwide, then more for high schools and corporations, before opening to everyone in 2006. Angwin, who has an MBA from Columbia University and shared a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting as part of a Wall Street Journal team covering corporate corruption, fits Facebook’s educated, upper-class profile. She is connected in every sense of the word. By contrast, MySpace has a reputation for attracting an outsider audience.

Stealing MySpace

In Angwin’s book Stealing MySpace—which chronicles how the site became a prized possession of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.—she quotes social-media expert Danah Boyd, of Microsoft Research New England, contrasting the sites: “The Goody Two-shoes, jocks, athletes, or other ‘good’ kids are now going to Facebook. … MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, ‘burnouts,’ ‘alternative kids,’ punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high-school popularity paradigm.”

Those generalizations have blurred with the exponential growth of MySpace and Facebook. Global traffic on Facebook has more than doubled that of MySpace—276 million unique visitors to 124 million in February. MySpace still attracts almost 20 million more visitors per month in the United States, a significant advantage from an advertising perspective, but Facebook appears to be gaining. If sheer volume has watered down the distinctions, a cultural border continues to separate the two sites. “Whatever you want to call those cohorts, class or demographics,” Angwin says, “there is a difference.”

Ethos of Self-Expression

That difference is reflected in her small circle of friends on MySpace, though she still appreciates the site’s ethos of self-expression. “Facebook forces everyone into this template, and there’s not a lot you can do to decorate your page. I think people still do want to decorate,” she says. “Even I have sort of fallen for the MySpace thing and made my page into a whole bunch of pretty colors. If I could glitterize it, I probably would.”

Originally published on July 13, 2009.