Danah Boyd’s take on why MySpace worked. The short answer is Subcultural Capital. The longer answer is in an essay on Boyd’s site that I’m excerpting below. Initially the essay sets up a history of Friendster and MySpace which is a good read in itself but moves into reasons for success later.
It is not about technological perfection.
Portability of identity doesn’t matter. Easy-to-use interfaces don’t matter. Visual coherence doesn’t matter. Simple navigation doesn’t matter. Bugs don’t matter. Fancy new technologies don’t matter. Simple personalization doesn’t matter.
Before you scream “but it does to me!” let me acknowledge that you’re right. It does matter to you. The question is whether it matters to the masses. And it doesn’t. Especially for teens.
Friendster focused on simple and narrow, giving users very limited options and cracking down on all hacks. For a long time, they took away features rather than adding them. They worked to mainstream-ify, to be equally generic to all users. MySpace added features all the time, making it a game to see what had changed, to find new ways of navigating the site. Hacking the site became a cultural phenomenon with websites being dedicated to hacking techniques (brought to you by fellow cultural participants not O’Reilly). MySpace let users define the culture.