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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An Open Letter To MySpace and Tom: Why MySpace sucks

Let me preface this by stating that each and every point I make here is opinion. Obviously. I’ve been a software and web developer for years, so this is not a random rant. I believe that I’m qualified to make the statements that follow based on my experience. This is not to boast; rather, it’s to support the claims that I will make. Also, I will not just complain without cause, but will offer specific examples and ideas for solutions where possible. It’s a little something I learned leading technical teams in my career.

The Gripes

Inconsistent User Interface and Controls
Number one problem, MySpace has a different set of controls for nearly every discreet module or section. Sure, the attempt to make MySpace videos a clone of dominant YouTube is cool, but getting around the videos section is a different experience than say, posting or reading blogs. Viewing user’s picture galleries is different than either of those tasks… and so on. And since I’m on the topic, either give me a rich text editor everywhere or don’t. Allow HTML codes or don’t. What I’m really saying here is, please be consistent. If you don’t force users to learn a new user interface in every section, they’ll be more willing to explore the site fully. That’s a better way to leverage your user base than aping YouTube’s ideas lock, stock and barrel.

Numerous Site Errors
It seems that every day, there’s a new problem or bug. Friend counts are wrong. The email count is wrong. There’s a problem logging in. An example of this last problem: with Internet Explorer 7, I cannot log into an account with a proper username and password. However, if I leave the password blank, get redirected to the login error page, and put the same username and password combination in, voila, it works. That’s just a stupid, stupid problem. That same profile works just fine using Mozilla Firefox instead. I should mention that MySpace renders totally different in Firefox than it does in Internet Explorer too. That’s to be expected but if you practiced good software development habits and cross-tested, it could be mitigated. Users of the site experience strange problems daily, which leads me to my next point.

Addition of New Features To Unstable Code
Until you can get the damned site working properly – the technical term is “stable” – stop adding new features and fulfilling feature requests. It’s bad software development practice, guys. This is not how you build a successful product. Yes, computer software has its bugs; even gold, shipping products such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X) have to be frozen and released. But good products have a solid foundation and can do the basics without blowing up. Car manufacturers don’t dribble out new technologies and then sometimes fix the broken parts after consumers get screwed. They wouldn’t sell any cars if the electrical system kept malfunctioning. For months, I have been unable to edit my profile in Safe Mode and I get blown off by technical support. Get the site basics working and then add new features… and test them. Invite your users to test them. If you need a good example, look at Yahoo! Mail. You’re not forced to use the new features, and the basic product just works if you have problems with the fancy stuff.

Extremely Poor Technical Assistance
The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page is crap. It’s directed at people who are new to the site. There’s no searchable knowledge base, and the method of contacting technical support is hard to find. Even if you do manage to shoot off an email to support, you get canned answers that rarely help the problem. It’s obvious in reading the responses I get that you don’t even look at the problem I’m reporting. In fact, you’ve told me to edit my profile in Safe Mode (which doesn’t work) and usually blame “bad HTML.” Are you kidding me? If “bad HTML” is the problem, then don’t allow users to screw up their profiles by adding it. If you’re not even going to read my email, don’t patronize me with brain-dead responses. I wonder all the time how Tom finds out about all these problems, because you sure as hell don’t pay any attention to email from users.

Inconsistent Application of Terms of Service/Lack of Appeals
Let’s start with user ages. Validating someone’s true age is surely a difficult and monumental task with (xxx users), but some logic could be applied to the process. I maintain a profile for a radio show, and an age was chosen to reflect our FM dial position (96). Since the profile represents a group of people, it was the obvious choice. MySpace obliterated the profile with no warning – just an email to say that it was in violation. There are many groups that have MySpace profiles, but the real issue is that I see profiles every day that have obviously faked ages. Why our station’s profile got nailed and these others still exist is beyond me. Here’s a suggestion to help with this issue: identify your users’ demographics – I’m sure you already have that information for advertising – and scan ages that fall outside of the main demo. When you find these profiles, don’t just blow them away, for God’s sake send an email to the user advising them of the violation and give them 2 weeks to change it. This can all be automated with very little human intervention. You ignored repeated attempts at contact and provided no appeals process. Sheesh. Oh yeah… users should have the option to display what personal information they choose – some people don’t like “45 female” being displayed for the world to see. Understand?

Tom and MySpace, I don’t expect for a moment that this diatribe will make one whit of difference. If anything I expect it will earn me ire my profile will be deleted. If that comes to pass, I won’t be back, but I will post this open letter on my personal site just in case. However, if you’re smart, you’ll take my advice for the benefit of your users and the betterment of your bank statement.

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posted by Mark  9/04/2007 05:07:00 AM


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