In my ongoing quest to explore music social networking sites, I spent some time over the weekend playing with Virb, which is yet another forthcoming MySpace killer social network that’s right now in an invitation-only beta. It’s somewhat music focussed — musicians and labels can create accounts and upload their music, it has a download plugin that logs iTunes listens and calculates top song, artist, album charts and can show real time listens. It has no streaming music except what bands upload, which leaves them wanting in comparison to sites like Last.fm, MOG, and iLike. It’s Virbtunes plugin only tracks iTunes listens, not those using any other players or mp3 players which is also a major shortcoming, but it is blissfully invisible.
But Virb’s not meant to be a full service music site (the same company’s site PureVolume strives for that) and it does way better than any of the music sites I’ve seen at integrating blogging, video posting and picture posting. It also has a module-based design that they make very easy to customize — you can turn modules on and off, choose what their titles are, move them around, and mess with the color scheme to your heart’s content and still have a hard time making it ugly. It’s a nice format for a flexible range of self presentations, you can really choose what to emphasize about yourself. If you’re css-literate, you can muck with your code, and there are some really nice looking pages on there (and some that are, shall we say, less successful in their creative expression). Textonic has a good overview with screen shots. Mashable’s take:
Virb is what MySpace would be like if it actually worked: a nice design, simple and intuitive navigation and just as much (perhaps even more) customization – not only can you edit all your profile’s colors and fonts in the basic view, but advanced users can edit the css and html, as well as building custom modules (basically snippets of html that make it easier to organize the various items on your page). There’s photo sharing too, of course, plus video-sharing, tagging, groups, comments, messaging and all the other standard features. Coming from the makers of PureVolume, there’s also a strong musical element: a download called Virbtunes works like MOG or Last.fm, tracking the music you listen to in iTunes and making recommendations. And just like on MySpace, bands also have special pages from which you can grab tracks to populate a player on your own profile.
As most of the beta testers have pointed out, it’s pretty impressive. There’s certainly some ill-will towards MySpace in the design and developer communities, and there’s already a buzz generating around the product that’s similar to the niche brand-power of 37Signals. There’s clearly no chance that the majority of MySpacers will switch, but the real question is whether Virb can roll out in time before the users go elsewhere.
I started a group (“Scandinavia!”), which attracted 2 members from Iceland who I didn’t know plus Avi (who invited me) joined it. I found one person I know offline on there and one I used to know. My initial sense is that unless you were invited into or used your invitations to import a social network you already built elsewhere, there is not enough going on there to make it super sticky yet, so I agree with Mashable that the roll out time is a key issue.
It gets me thinking about all kind of questions:
What is the upper limit in how many online social network sites a person can actively maintain a presence? You can craft an identity and refer people to other places on multiple social network sites, but there’s a cap on how many you can really spend time engaging.
Given that, and given that there are now hundreds if not thousands of social network sites to choose from, what makes people choose to invest in the sites that they do?
Is there a balance of specialized and niche sites in the portfolio of one’s online self?
What are the different strategies people use in choosing these sites to craft just the right multifaceted identity?
How and to what extent do those strategies and self presentations incorporate and rely on our fandom for music, for specific bands, for sports, tv, movies, sneakers, wine… ?
And what about the grownups?
Any thoughts on this from personal experience, things you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, studies you’ve done, etc welcomed. I’ve come to learn lately that there are more interesting people lurking on this blog than I knew, so tell us what you think.
Also, I have some Virb invitations left if you want to explore.