China'sFuture MySpace crowd

When Facebook opened up their platform to developers and application hobbyists a few weeks ago, they opened up the platform to more than just the geekcore for tools and widgets, they also opened it up to the Friendster, MySpace and LinkedIn refugees who never thought of going onto facebook until recently like myself. I was quite surprised at how many friends were already on the network and how rich the features and gadgets selection really were. People who were not on the other social networks were quite open and chatty on FaceBook.

I tried to find some of my friends from the game industry and found out that it was actually quite hard to connect with them since they were not on the service at all. I then realized why after some thought. The Video Games industry is quite young and many of the most smartest and senior people in this industry never went or finished college. Like journalism before they had journalism schools and the film industry before film majors, MBAs and Lawyers flooded it, the games industry was started by folks who loved  games and created them at home or in small startup companies but did not go to college. Since FaceBook started from campuses (particularly Harvard and the Ivy league), there is a distinct class similarity in the current population of Facebook. As FaceBook becomes more popular and the games industry requires academic credentials, this underrepresentation of the games industry will probably lessen. FaceBook will continue to grow since as my friend Jason of Virtual-China (currently banned by China due to links to Shanxi slave brick scandal) describes it..."its too public" (spoken like a true Brown University graduate).

This paper explains it much better. Great essay on the real divisions within American Society.

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When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings (just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn't until late 2004 that teens really started appearing en masse on MySpace and 2005 was the year that MySpace became the "in thing" for teens.

Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site. It slowly expanded to welcome people with .edu accounts from a variety of different universities. In mid-2005, Facebook opened its doors to high school students, but it wasn't that easy to get an account because you needed to be invited. As a result, those who were in college tended to invite those high school students that they liked. Facebook was strongly framed as the "cool" thing that college students did. So, if you want to go to college (and particularly a top college), you wanted to get on Facebook badly. Even before high school networks were possible, the moment seniors were accepted to a college, they started hounding the college sysadmins for their .edu account. The message was clear: college was about Facebook.

Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and "so middle school." They prefer the "clean" look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is "so lame." What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as "glitzy" or "bling" or "fly" (or what my generation would call "phat") by subaltern teens. Terms like "bling" come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I'm sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the "eye of the beholder" - they are culturally narrated and replicated. That "clean" or "modern" look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I'm drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook."

The implications for China is even larger. Already there are two main groups of Chinese youth. The educated elite who are going to top universities in China and abroad and everyone else who has to work in restaurants, factories, the army and your local store. A MySpace China may be great idea on paper but what China really needs is a restricted FaceBook type social network to filter out the great masses yearning to climb. As harsh as that sounds, many of the urban fashions and trends seem more and more to identify or remake the haves (few and powerful) from the havenots and wannabees (huge and grumbling). It would seem that the Chinese Internet, like modern Chinese society is fast becoming more bifurcated on class, education and income far faster than disparity in the US or Europe.

 

-Frank Yu