Ryan "Hup" Hupfer and his friend John "Dub" Wolsiefer stand outside of the bus they took across America in January to meet their Top 8 friends on MySpace. Find out more about these guys and their trip at www.myspace.com/top8tour
Visit NUVO on MySpace and become our friend at www.myspace.com/nuvonewsweekly Suddenly, everybody is talking about MySpace. And 40 million are already using this online community, a good percentage taking a shine to something they never thought they'd like. Lots of these MySpacers shatter the stereotype of who you'd expect to find hanging around on the Internet. Instead of voyeurs watching the world from their desk chairs, many are creative and active doers using MySpace as a tool to improve their social and professional lives. Some are using it to have a good time. And others are just killing time. "MySpace is whatever you want it to be, really," says local blues musician Reverend Peyton, 22. What makes MySpace appealing to doers and voyeurs alike is its inclusiveness and its usefulness. It's free and easy to navigate. And its real-world applications range from singles finding dates to non-profit organizations rallying volunteers to big companies direct-marketing their products. "Other old online communities were never mainstream enough," says Ryan Hupfer, 25, a big-time doer and founder of the online community Hup's Hoopty. Hupfer, his buddy "Dub" and crew recently crisscrossed the country in a tour bus making a documentary about MySpace. They now have 800 friends, gaining 400 during the tour. "It can work for everybody, from top to bottom. It has created a standard. Your MySpace profile is like your phone number now. But I don't think a lot of people understand the power in it all yet." This 2-year-old online community - the eighth busiest site of any kind on the Web - is certainly something worth figuring out. The 150,000 new users each day think so. Fox's Rupert Murdoch thinks so. He bought MySpace for $580 million last year. Thousands of musicians - from acoustic coffee shop acts to Madonna - think so. And McDonald's and Best Buy - who have real profiles on MySpace - think so too. How to MySpace While it's a little hard to grasp the concept, abstractly, MySpace is not hard to do. Once you complete a brief registration process, you set up "profiles" or online public faces for other members to view. You customize the profile by filling out information about yourself and your interests and by uploading photos, which become your online calling cards. You can also link to music and add ongoing blog entries accessible from the profile page. On many profiles, the personal information is incredibly detailed and revealing. "It's like thumbing through the phonebook except you know everything about the person. Everybody's an open book," Hupfer says. "We have two generations. One is afraid of everybody stealing their identities on the Internet. And the other just lays it all out." If you are at all tech-savvy, you can customize your page using basic html code. As attractive or ugly as these can be, the varied profiles are still easy to navigate because each offers the same basic features. "The different look of each page is kind of like everybody's personality," Hupfer says.
Susan Corrie was pleased with the outcome of the party she threw for 210 of her closest MySpace friends recently at Birdy's.
But all of that stuff is secondary to functions designed for collecting and interacting with "friends." Once your profile is set, you can start fishing around via various search-and-browse tools, clicking links to ask others to become your friends. This has made "friend" into a new verb (example: I'll friend you). If a person accepts, then the new friend's image and a link to their profile is added to your profile page and vice versa. That's how MySpace communities are made. Some people start by finding people they are friends with in real life. Others enjoy searching for well-known businesses, organizations, bands and individuals. Some of the businesses are real - like McDonald's. Others are fake, like the one for Wendy's that is riddled with goofy misspellings. The same is true of individuals. For every real artist, author or athlete on MySpace, there are 10 fake Kurt Vonneguts or Peyton Mannings. Users know this and become friends anyway. But sometimes they'll "out" posers as one woman did with a comment on a profile for movie director David Lynch. She wrote that she saw the real David Lynch at a public appearance and asked him. He said he didn't know anything about MySpace. While fakes are common with bands - my favorite is Tom Waits (can anyone imagine him getting on MySpace?) - many huge names, from Fall Out Boy to Wilco, are present and more than happy to become your friends. That was really the driving force behind the site's success. The founders - a musician named Tom Anderson and a marketer named Chris DeWolfe - encouraged their actor, model and musician friends to sign up during MySpace's infancy. Regular Joes and Janes followed the path led by the stars. Some, like Anton Newcombe from the band Brian Jonestown Massacre, are very active participants on MySpace. He sends "bulletin" communications to his 6,000 friends decrying President Bush - and various other things - several times a day. Like Newcombe, you can communicate with all of your friends at once by sending bulletins or you can also send individual e-mails, invitations or make publicly viewable comments on others' profile pages or underneath photos. Once you have more than eight friends - some have more than 30,000 but most have 100 or less - you can rank your top eight friends, who can be viewed by anyone on your profile page. The unranked friends require another click or two to view. There, you can always see a little flashing icon so you know which friends are on MySpace right then, too. Communities grow this way because one friend checks out their friend's friends, maybe friending them just to be friended in return. And so on. 'A picture of your ass' For most of the millions of users out there, MySpace is a high-school-style popularity contest. It's a place to find acceptance. One of the people Hupfer visited on his tour for the documentary, a 16-year-old in Phoenix who calls himself Darling Faggot, has little going his way in real life. He's not in school and his parents impounded his computer (he uses one at the library) and took the door to his room off the hinges. But he has 30,000 friends on MySpace. "He's got no friends in real life, but he has people on the Internet writing his name on their legs and sending him the pictures," Hupfer says of the boy whose pet-monkey-owning mother runs a daycare center in their home. "Some kid might be really cool and popular at Pendleton Heights High School, but when he gets on MySpace, nobody knows who he is. So it's sort of an equalizer. Anybody can be The Guy on MySpace." Like angst-ridden teen-agers, there's no shortage of scantily clad women - nude pictures aren't allowed - and shirtless men. People use these evocative photos simply as bait to draw in friends. "It's a competition for attention. That's what it's all about," Hupfer says. "How do you get attention? You show a picture of your ass. How do you get comments on your picture? You don't just sit there at a desk in a sweater." People with pretty pictures can sit back and gather friends numbering in the thousands. Random people surf along and want to connect, even if only virtually. Morgan Sheets is a 22-year-old Butler University senior who works as a model. Her pictures on MySpace aren't so revealing, but she still gets all kinds of messages and comments from men. She doesn't usually respond and has never hooked up with a guy who contacted her on MySpace. A few times, though, visiting celebrities - musicians and comedians - have found her on MySpace and invited her to shows, and she accepted. Mostly, she uses her profile for research. "I've had 37 people look at me, eight messages and five new friend requests since 4 a.m.," she says during the middle of the day. "It's nice to track the attention I get. But I don't really think of MySpace friends as real friends." From virtual to actual Others are actively using MySpace to cross the line between virtual and actual friendships. That's what Hupfer's trip with his buddy Dub and several others was about. "People don't even want to use the phone anymore, let alone see each other in real life. So we really threw some people out of it. We just showed up on their doorsteps," Hupfer said of the cross-continent tour. "But all of the people we met are really great friends with us in real life now." During the Las Vegas stop on the tour, Hupfer visited a MySpace friend who was friends with a woman who ran an online community there. She was really friends with one of the higher ups at MySpace. In no time, she set up a meeting for Hupfer at MySpace headquarters in California. "She got on her Sidekick and was online with him in like two minutes. Then she got him on the phone and handed it to me," Hupfer says. "With two messages, we met a girl in Vegas who said, 'Come on out.' Then she introduced us to a friend who got us in to talk to MySpace. It's crazy. What other Web site has been able to connect a nation like this?" Here in Indianapolis, people are using MySpace to make smaller connections. On a Friday night, Jessica Moran, 28, might send a bulletin out to her friends inviting them to come over for an impromptu party. She's also made dates through MySpace, usually with people she's met a time or two in real life but never really got to know. "I met a girl last weekend who runs an art gallery in Irvington," Moran says. "We had been MySpace friends but didn't know each other. She invited me to a show at the gallery through MySpace. When I walked in, we recognized each other right away. It was really weird." Ivy Tech student Susan Corrie, 28, threw a party for her MySpace friends recently at Birdy's complete with several area bands. That night, 210 people showed up. Suddenly, the friendship was more than virtual. "It was great to see people I hadn't met. Everybody was excited to meet each other and talk face-to-face," says Corrie, who has 400 MySpace friends. "A lot of people were saying, 'Wow, I saw so and so from your page.'" For Corrie, making music part of her MySpace party made total sense. Several of the bands were her friends and she sees MySpace as built on the foundation of music. "Everybody loves music. Local bands can get more hype and promotion online. They can invite people who will tell other people," she says. "It's a never-ending chain reaction." I want my MySpace At first, local musician Reverend Peyton was skeptical about MySpace. He thought it was some kind of hookup service full of fake profiles. But, one year and 1,500 friends later, Peyton and his Big Damn Band used it to book most of a recent tour across the western United States. "For a lot of venues, the preferred method of contact was MySpace," says Peyton, who - at a concert in Cincinnati - was the last friend visited in Hupfer's Top 8 tour. "It makes it very easy for bands to connect with fans and stay in touch. You can add people as friends and then it's easy to reconnect with them the next time you go through their town." MySpace was even partially responsible for local rockers Margot & the Nuclear So & So's (see last week's cover story, "The Margot Bunch," Jan. 18-25) signing to a national label. The first contact came in a message to Margot's profile page. "MySpace is a huge deal for us," says Richard Edwards, Margot's lead singer. "I hated it at first. But it works." Reverend Peyton doesn't have a big record label's promotions budget backing his band. But MySpace certainly helps make up the difference. "It has sort of blown up for us. We've sold CDs, booked shows, you name it. And to think, at first, we weren't going to sign up," he says. While bands and smaller record labels have embraced MySpace as a tool, larger musical institutions - like major record labels and the once ultra-hip MTV - have been slow to respond. Hupfer thinks MySpace is the new MTV. Peyton doesn't go that far, but says it's close. "I think the Internet is the new MTV," he says. "MySpace is a focused energy from the Internet. They figured out how to harness the power." A man named Matt Vitalone with 43 friends in Brooklyn, N.Y., uses the URL www.MySpace.com/mtv. Unlike many others on MySpace who have snapped up these Web addresses hoping for another dotcom payoff, Vitalone says, via MySpace message, that he simply picked it because those are his initials (Matthew Tower Vitalone). And, now that he thinks about it, he wonders why he has it instead of MTV. "I do think it is a little strange that MTV doesn't have a presence on MySpace," he wrote. And he said he'd sell it to MTV if they ever came calling. "But I'd be pissed if they accused me of squatting on the URL just to get cash ... If they tried to take MySpace.com/mtv from me that way, I'd be upset since I legitimately picked it without any thought to the corporate entity." Sounds like Vitalone has his legal argument all worked out. If things keep going the direction they seem to be, he may just need it. Midi Controlled Shit Fountain? So if everything is free for MySpace users, then why did Murdoch spend millions for it? Simple: This thing is a marketer's wet dream. First, your friends aren't the only ones who know everything about you. MySpace knows. And advertisers can, too. And, while it shies away from annoying spam and popup adds, the site is still filled with stuff for sale. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Internet advertising, MySpace's power as demonstrated through the music pages could cross over to most kinds of businesses. But Hupfer - who also works in marketing for Carmel-based Mediasauce - says companies need to figure out how to make their pitches on MySpace work. "It's going to take people who really understand what it can do," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if companies didn't start creating positions just for this." Right now, Hupfer sees the big corporations as hopelessly out of touch when it comes to using the Internet in general. For instance, CBS has big plans and is spending tons of money to stream live video of the Final 4 on the Internet. "I don't care," Hupfer says. "I'm still going to watch it on TV." Likewise, the big companies aren't going to apply their old tactics to MySpace and see payoff for their efforts. "This totally blows all that out of the water," Hupfer says. "They can't just put their TV commercials on their MySpace page and sit there and expect people to buy things." Instead, he says, companies will do things like pay MySpace "influencers" - people like Darling Faggot in Phoenix with thousands of friends - to promote their stuff, just like product placement in the movies. However they approach it, companies will have to work to be accepted. Their message will no longer be broadcast scattershot. Instead, connections will have to be made one at a time. "It works because, when you become a friend - even with a company - you've been accepted into a group. That means something to people," Hupfer says. Susan Corrie, the woman who threw the party at Birdy's, says she responds well to businesses with a presence on MySpace. "It's important that whoever is running the MySpace page is good about getting back with you about questions," she says. "That makes it more personal. I like that." What appears to be the official McDonald's page (www.MySpace.com/mcdonalds) is filled with diatribes posted as comments by a woman named Gerrah from London who's concerned about the company's cruelty toward animals and using the planet as a "dump." One of the profile's Top 8 - which also includes the Hamburgler and Chuck E. Cheese - is a man from Apopka, Fla., who calls himself "Midi Controlled Shit Fountain." "Ronald" even sent out this bulletin to his relatively meager 1,400 friends the other day: "Yo yo yo what up. This is Ronald, and I just want to thank ya'll for being our friend on MySpace McDonald's! We are also thankful for all of you players who go out and eat our great food!" He signed off "with much care and respect." If McDonald's is really operating this page - they didn't respond to repeated calls for confirmation - it's not working out so well. "I'm sure these companies are going to freak out about these pages because they don't have control of the message," Hupfer says. "There's nothing to stop you from putting up pictures of your ass."
Facebook: friending on campus
By Alex Heminger At the Indiana University-Purdue University campus in Indianapolis, thousands of Hoosier students are self-professed addicts.
IUPUI student Jonathan Sanderock says he prefers Facebook over MySpace.
"I admit it," said 20-year-old education major Lindsey Howard. "I'm addicted." These students aren't talking about drug or alcohol dependence. They're talking about Facebook.com, which arrived at IUPUI in November 2004 and, following the same pattern of success at universities around the country, has been an instant hit with Jaguars. Founded by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, Facebook is an online directory that connects college students through social networks. Because of the immediate popularity the site received, what began as a project to link fellow Harvard students via the Web soon became a nationwide phenomenon. Since then, Facebook has expanded to every campus in the nation, boasting an impressive 80-85 percent membership among university students. Chris Hughes, Facebook spokesman, attributes the site's success to its versatility. "The fact that Facebook is so many things at once - a reference tool, a means for communication and a clean, fun site to use - is the central reason that people come back daily," Hughes explained. According to ComScore, a tracking service for Internet use, Facebook has 8.5 million unique users logging in every month and ranks 10th in overall Web traffic. "Around 60 percent of our users log in each day, and we get almost 200 million page views in any 24-hour period," Hughes added. "I log in several times a day," said Lindsay Crane, 19, criminal justice major, "just to check my messages." Just for university students Internet ranking service Alexa ranked Facebook 60th in overall Web traffic in October, up from 90th the previous month. In fact, four of Alexa's Top 100 Web sites are social networking communities. However, unlike other networking communities such as MySpace and Friendster, Facebook is designed exclusively for university students, a feature collegians have found appealing. Political science major John Sanderock, 19, was a member of MySpace for three years before discovering Facebook in July of this year. "I like Facebook better," he said. "It's very well-put-together." Sanderock also likes the fact that Facebook allows students to connect with people they might not otherwise meet. Since Facebook membership is limited to students, the process of meeting peers and forming friendships on campus is made simpler. With a mere click of the mouse, a student can learn about a classmate's interests and hobbies by viewing their profile page. Profiles provide the scoop on a person's interests and hobbies, such as favorite books, movies, TV shows and quotes; there's even a field for political alignment. Members can also place additional information under the About Me header. For those single students looking to mingle, profiles also provide a person's relationship status. Students can post what they're looking for in a relationship by filling out the Interested in Meeting For ... field, which includes options like Friendship, Dating, Random Play and, for the less discriminating, Whatever I Can Get. "I met three girls in a week," said Martel Haskins, 21, who studies organizational leadership. "Facebook has really helped get my booty rate up." Common interests For those looking to make new friends or simply keep track of existing ones, Facebook allows its members to connect to one another through the My Friends page. By sending a "Friends" request to other members, students can add and stay in touch with new and old pals alike via their My Friends list. Howard has 261 friends on her list. "Facebook allows me to keep up with friends from high school that I would most likely forget about," she said. Messages can be sent to friends on the My Messages page, which also lists any correspondence received. Members can write on one another's walls, the cyber equivalent of a Post-It note. Students can also "poke" other members, which is simply a quick way to give a buddy a shout. Members are further linked to one another through the Groups page. By joining and creating clubs, students can meet others who share common interests. Popular clubs include: I Went to Public School, Brunettes Are Best, I'm Drunk Right Now, Support Our Troops, I Hate IUPUI Parking Services and I Don't Smoke Because Facebook is More Addictive than Nicotine. On the My Photos page, which has been recently expanded, members can upload and share an unlimited amount of pictures and images. The My Parties page allows students to see what upcoming events are happening around campus. Students can even post announcements about their own event or party for other members to see. This combination of features and the fun atmosphere Facebook provides have fueled its immense popularity. Hughes adds that another factor in the site's growth is that Facebook spills over into "real" life. "Parties and groups are organized more efficiently, people are able to discover interests they share in common with acquaintances or friends, and people are able to see more details about girls or guys they find cute," he said. Because of the overwhelming response from college students, Facebook has recently created a high school version, Facebook High, which provides the same features as the university edition. As of October, high school membership reached 100,000 and it's estimated that number has been growing by about 8,000 students per day. Safety and privacy concerns Not everyone has jumped aboard the social networking band wagon. Organizations such as CyberAngels and Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) work to inform parents and students about the potential dangers of online social networks. Chief among these organizations' concerns are invasion of privacy issues and cyber stalking. In order to address these issues, Facebook has many features which allow members to protect themselves. "Safety and privacy concerns are one of our top priorities - take a look at the extensive privacy settings that we've had from the outset as evidence. If any user does use the network inappropriately, we'll throw that person off the network," Hughes said. "Additionally, any user can block another specific user from seeing her profile by going to her privacy options page. At the end of the day, our users have complete control over their information and should only display that which they feel comfortable with." Others have warned that social networks are impeding students' ability for interpersonal communication. Since the interaction conducted on the networks is done through the Internet medium, there is concern that this "absent presence" will affect people's capacity to communicate face to face. "Facebook enables students to exchange information about themselves and provide them an online structure for them to do it in," Hughes explained, saying that the site actually facilitates interaction. "The idea is to offer students a resource of information and a means for communication. First-years are making connections with future roommates or friends ... relationships only become official these days when they are formally recognized on Facebook." These concerns are typical of the kind often spawned by new forms of communication. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone there were those who claimed that people would cease to communicate face to face. The skeptics warned that Bell's invention would serve to isolate people, encouraging folks to never leave their homes. Of course, the opposite occurred and the telephone served to bring people closer together. With social networking still in its infancy, it may be too early to predict whether the same will be true of networking technologies. Meanwhile, those millions of self-described Facebook fanatics are simply looking to enjoy their time at school and make new friends. Howard said, "I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, plan events and, overall, just to be silly and have a good time, which is what college is all about, right?" Alex Heminger is a student at IUPUI.