The first time I meet Chris Thorpe it’s at the tail end of a pre-Christmas drinking session in a pub round the back of King’s Cross. Maybe it’s only fair that today he’s plumped for rather more sophisticated surroundings just up the road: the foyer of the spanking new Kings Place concert hall.
The light, airy atrium dotted with Terence Coventry sculptures would probably exude serenity if it weren’t for the lunch-time hoardes, serial tannoy announcements and one cute but kamikaze toddler.
But we’re talking social, so I guess this is all okay.
Chris is the Developer Platform Evangelist for MySpace; this means he spends his time liaising between developers, users and brands, and asking what these people/entities actually want from each other. Primarily, he’s interested in why and how people use social networks.
“Your engagement with social media is very much to do with your intent: and your intent on LinkedIn is very different from your intent on MySpace. MySpace’s audience is very engaged with media. The ties between friends are slightly weaker than, say, on Facebook, but weak ties are strengthened by a common shared interest in content – music, film and games.
“There’s no such thing as a prototypical social network. Facebook is pretty much a Salesforce for friends. MySpace is more of a friend discovery network – in the same way as Twitter: it’s all about finding new friendships.”
As the world’s most popular social network, Facebook’s appeal seems to be ever broader: older people joining to view photos of their grandchildren while teens sign up as they outgrow other networks and want to see what all the fuss is about.
Just 12 months ago, MySpace’s user base was more or less level with Facebook. But recent figures show that Facebook’s reach is now double that of MySpace: MySpace reported just 124 million monthly unique visitors in February compared to Facebook’s 276 million.
MySpace may be consolidating its user base but the seam it mines is a rich one: it is still the ‘must have’ network for bands and musicians. Nonetheless, whereas on Facebook or LinkedIn, your “friends” or “contacts” lists might be sacrosanct, on MySpace the switching costs (ie: the expense of moving to another profile or network) are probably slightly lower:
“It’s not necessarily the cost of losing friendships more about the cost of building up another identity. On MySpace people are happy to shed identities: they’ll close down one profile and build up a new one. MySpace is about trying new things on: bands, crazes, even politics. It’s about discovery of things – and of yourself.”
“If it’s all about building a persona then that’s only authentic for a certain period. Authenticity is time-based. I used to be a research scientist – now I work in social software. [Furthermore] if you think about how you are in real life, you expose different facets to different people: we fine tune what we say.”
One thing’s for sure, your funky, expressive MySpace profile (and certainly the one you may have flouted when you were 16) is probably not the one you’d like your future boss or current business colleagues to have access to.
This is the one area in particular that Chris sees as ripe for exploitation:
“When I ask people what makes them uncomfortable about social media the issue that always comes up is the one of being friends with colleagues…okay, so the gap between work and life is disappearing, but this just shows the massive need for more work social intranets.”
Indeed, if your boss is desperate to be your friend, let him/her hang out with you during work hours – don’t impinge on my downtime, dude!