Talk to students at The Urban School, an elite private high school in San Francisco, and they will tell you that they used to be on MySpace, but not anymore. Facebook is where it's at for them and their friends.
Facebook is taking over more and more of the social networking space in the U.S. It had an estimated 95.5 million U.S. visitors in September, according to marketing research company comScore. MySpace still has a healthy share — around 65.7 million people — but numbers don't explain it all. If you listen to young site users explain their social networking decisions, the story of the two sites gets more complicated.
"No one uses MySpace," says 17-year-old Halie Pacheco, a student at The Urban School. She likes Facebook. "It's safer and more high class," she explains.
"By 'high class' I think she means organized," adds 16-year-old Olivia Block. "With MySpace there's a lot of clutter."
MySpace pages do look busier than Facebook; on MySpace you can customize graphics and music while Facebook is limited to one spare blue-and-white design. The MySpace clutter seems to symbolize something more to these kids. Sixteen-year-old Nico Kurt lays out his view of the MySpace users this way: "It seems trashy to me. The only people who use it are trashy people."
Well, then there must be 65 million "trashy" people, all hanging out on MySpace. Some of them are teenagers who take an art class at a San Francisco community gallery called Southern Exposure. They are Latino and mostly lower-income. They have their own ideas about who uses which social networks. They are all on MySpace and some of them have Facebook accounts, too.
"I have friends who are white," says 19-year-old Diego Luna. "They are my white people friends and they are mostly on Facebook. That's why I use Facebook. My brown people are on MySpace."
Social media researcher danah boyd (she doesn't capitalize) has heard a lot of conversations just like this. She thinks the online social world is dividing up — just like the real world — into neighborhoods.
"Young people — and for the most part adults as well — don't really interact online with strangers," she says. "They talk to people they already know. You have environments in which people are divided by race, divided by class, divided by lifestyle. When they go online they are going to interact in the same way."