Buzz might be more important to the rise of social networking sites than of other types of websites. People tend to choose their favourite websites in most categories based on how well the services or apps there work; the sites' traffic numbers are less important. But visitors value social networking sites according to how many cool people go there. If you want to meet people online, you naturally visit the site that gives you the best chance of finding people you'll like. View the slideshow of screenshots put together by our sister title PC World that examines major features and shows the differences between the two sites.
The most immediate difference between the two sites involves their look and feel. Facebook is more formal and more related to school and work, whereas MySpace is informal and more about pop culture and leisure-time activities. Facebook's interface is cleaner and more adult-looking than most MySpace pages - Facebook's 'block' presentation, clean lines, and preservation of white space add up to a less chaotic browsing experience than you're likely to have at MySpace.
MySpace gives its users a great deal of creative control over the look of their pages; it's easy to drop HTML code into a MySpace page template to add images, change colours, and move elements around the page. But the results frequently are unappealing: The background images often compete with the text and function boxes in the foreground, producing cluttered, hard-to-look-at results - the online equivalent of loud plaids and uncomplimentary stripes. Some users' pages are so laden with imported HTML code that they crash visitors' browsers.
Unlike MySpace, Facebook helps new members build their networks of friends by leveraging existing, offline social structures: You can run a search of your current or former school, college, university, or company to find people from your present or past. When I created my page, I discovered that a surprising number of former co-workers and ex-classmates were already Facebook members. Once you locate them, you can invite them into your friend network. This approach should enable new members to build their friend networks faster and get more-immediate gratification.
At MySpace you build your network of friends by inviting people from real-world social circles, or by inviting and adding friends of your existing MySpace friends - people in your 'extended network'. One downside of that free-form approach is the preponderance of annoying self-promotion on MySpace. People and groups of all kinds use the site as a marketing platform by sending messages to and requesting 'adds' from members they don't know. MySpace users routinely receive junk messages and friend requests from random rock bands, rappers, comedians, and the like. You don't have to 'add' anybody you don't know, of course, but the upsurge in promotion contributes to the impression that MySpace is less and less "my" space.