MySpace co-owner Justin Timberlake is at the forefront of a brand relaunch for the site.(Photo: Ethan Miller Getty Images)
By Martha C. White, NBC News
Comeback kids or "Come back, kids!"? The new Myspace, prominently backed by singer Justin Timberlake, wants to win over Gen Y music fans with a slick new interface and put its has-been reputation behind it.
It's an ambitious vision: Give the music industry its own version of LinkedIn, lure fans with the promise of up-close-and-personal access that Twitter offers, add streaming music in the vein of Pandora or Spotify, and let users search for people who like the same music as they do - just like the old MySpace used to do before it got cluttered with ads and obnoxious blinking backgrounds. Oh, and deliver it all in a pretty, Pinterest-esque layout. The new Myspace (the "s" is small now) has potential, but the absence of a mobile app and Timberlake's omnipresence could quickly become dealbreakers.
Myspace liberally borrows features from other social networks, but experts caution that could be a double-edged sword. Users obviously aren't looking for redundancy, but a remix has the chance to deliver a better experience, said Sinan Aral, an assistant professor and Microsoft faculty fellow at the New York University Stern School of Business.
However, tech bloggers were, by and large, derisive when the new site had its big reveal last week. The layout and the horizontal, scrolling navigation aren't intuitive, and the featured music is heavy on offerings by Timberlake, along with Jay Z (featured on Timberlake's new single) and his wife, Beyonce.
"It's dangerous to use a platform like that to push individual songs or artists that are in the wheelhouse of the owner," Aral said.
Timberlake's new single seems to have factored into the timeline of the rollout, as well. "With where we were in our development, and given that Justin was releasing his first single after many years and naturally wanted to put it on MySpace, we decided that the timing was perfect for us to lift the invite-gate and enter an open beta stage," spokesperson Neda Azarfar told the Washington Post.
"Perfect" might be a questionable characterization. Users filled up the site's help boards to complain about login issues and a lack of integration between the old version (which the company calls Myspace Classic) and the new one.
However, Sam Hamadeh, CEO of PrivCo, a firm that researches private companies, said that Myspace's return to its music-centric roots was smart. (Myspace's parent, Specific Media, bought it from News Corp. for a reported $35 million in 2011.) "As a social network for musicians, artists and their fans, it does seem like that narrow focus has started to grow revenue and staunch the losses," he said.
"As Pinterest has shown, there is still more room in social for competition than some might think," Glen Gilmore, a social media strategist who teaches digital marketing at Rutgers University, said via email. "It's about finding your niche and doing it well. It seems that Myspace has finally gotten to a point where it's ready to say what we've all already known: It's a network about music."
A much bigger issue is that the revamped site launched without a companion mobile app or even a mobile-optimized website.
"We're working hard to bring you a new mobile experience. After we have an app we're happy with for the iPhone we will move on to other mobile devices," a "community manager" named Christina posted on the site's help section at the beginning of the week. Myspace didn't respond to a request for comment about when its app would be available.
"That's a killer," said Alan Webber, principal analyst and partner at Altimeter Group, LLC. "I don't know what they're thinking... I would not have launched without an app. So much of our time online is actually spent on a mobile device."
This is particularly true for young adults. In a survey of 1,800 18- to 30-year-olds, the 2012 Cisco Connected World Technology Report found that smartphones were twice as popular as desktop computers, and 70 percent of respondents said mobile apps were an important part of their daily lives.
Millennials definitely have the potential to be a great target market, said Rich Tullo, director of research at financial firm Albert Fried & Co. They like to try new things, and if one person does something, his or her friends will usually follow suit. The wider circle of friends many now have, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, means that new products or ideas catch on quickly. "They exhibit a lot of flocking behavior because they're on social networks," he said.
But Myspace needs an app to get those users to flock to it, Tullo said. "Millennials are connected on such an intimate basis, if you're not talking to them through an app... I don't see how you'd ever get your business off the ground."
The clock is ticking for Myspace to get its app out into the marketplace and on users' phones. Millennials aren't a demographic known for their patience. "Maybe 60 days, maybe as much as three months," Webber said. "But they don't have that long."