I can't stand MySpace. There, I've said it. I'll be saying a lot of nice things about social media and its culture of online openness. But MySpace, while the exemplar of social media, is not my favorite. MySpace has popularized the structures, tools, and community ideas that have been emulated by many others. So I'll tip my hat to the site that propelled social media into common culture (Friendster actually preceded MySpace but stumbled in 2004 and MySpace has since been king of the hill). Unfortunately, because of the demographics of MySpace and the generic nature of its purpose, it's not a suitable environment for much other than flirting and swimsuit model try outs.
To some degree all social media sites suffer from this downside to the culture of openness. Among any crowd there will be those inclined toward voyeurism, and the larger, more general and anonymous the crowd, the more such behavior flourishes. But there are many social networking sites that, because of a clear focus and less anonymous profile, are very conducive to networking, business and participating in niche communities.
Both Friendster and MySpace began as simple online communities that allowed young people to post comments, keep up with friends and engage in the politics of popularity that most teenagers enjoy. But the fundamentals of these online social networks began to have effects that were not initially intended. Once observed, these effects motivated thousands of companies to model their sites after social networks. They began including features like members and groups, friends, commenting, recommending, blog rolling, and tagging.
What were these effects that have driven so many websites apparently insane for social media? To appreciate the answer we'll need to understand a particular problem facing the web--the ever-expanding availability of stuff.