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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 12:40 GMT
The MySpace Age
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

In little more than a couple of years MySpace.com has gone from zero to being a top five website which no self-respecting US teenager can ignore. Now, it's gaining ground in Britain.

As any creative thinker knows the best ideas are always the most obvious. The rise of MySpace.com from nowhere to almost the top of the internet tree in just 36 months does nothing to change that maxim.

MySpace is simplicity itself - a site that enables anyone to build their own homepage for free, listing their likes, dislikes, favourite bands, top books, best movies, general interests, relationship status etc, and then hook-up with other like-minded folk.

As 25-year-old Briana Dougherty, a MySpace devotee, puts it, "it's a casual way to stay in contact without appearing weird".

When Briana, who works in the music industry, hits the town, goes to a gig or a party and meets someone interesting, they trade MySpace profiles and stay in contact.

It's a central meeting point to stay in contact with friends all the time
MySpace user Briana Dougherty
Asking for someone's e-mail address can be "creepy", says Briana, who is from California and works in London, because it's "personal, one-to-one contact".

She has 224 "friends" on MySpace. Some are good friends from back home in the US, some are just people "you occasionally see around parties" and some are not actually individuals, but bands she likes.

Music, always a lively topic of conversation among the young, is a great common denominator on MySpace, and fertile ground for emerging bands - the Arctic Monkeys' owe much of their success to the site.

These days the time-honoured teenage conversational gambit "What music are you into?" will likely be met with a response along the lines of "Can I refer you to my MySpace page."

MySpace is what's known as a social networking site. It's by far the biggest, claiming about 57 million registered users, and is currently ranked the fifth most popular English language site on the net by the Alexa ratings service. Others of the same genre include Facebook, Bebo, MSN Spaces, Friendster and Yahoo 360.

Rupert Murdoch
The new man behind MySpace - media mogul Rupert Murdoch
All work in a similar way, offering users a host of conventional internet functions - blogging, user forums, instant messaging, personal profiles, online photo albums, visitor comment spaces - in one place.

See someone who's into the same music as you, similar films, is a compatible star sign, or you just fancy? Send them a message and if they're interested, bingo, you've made a friend. Although MySpace wouldn't confirm its UK audience, it has been cited at between two and four million. The launch of a UK-specific site is thought to be imminent.

The success of MySpace has not gone unnoticed by commercial operators who have seized on it as a handy way of targeting potential customers. For example, anyone who proclaims their interest in kite-surfing, should steel themselves for a torrent of e-mails from companies trying to sell them the latest kit.

And with millions of users, social networking sites, which make money out of advertising, are potential goldmines. MySpace was bought last year by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $580m (332.85m).

But while Mr Murdoch, 75 this week, is clearly hip to the appeal of MySpace, many people even half his age will never have heard of it.

The safety of people, particularly children and women, using MySpace is a growing concern
Rachel O'Connell, who leads the Home Office taskforce on internet safety, is anxious that pages are so easily searchable
Displaying photos of oneself helps stalkers, she says
MySpace's Chris DeWolfe says 'This isn't a MySpace issue, it's an internet issue'