When Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, professed vampire and practicing Satanist, announced he was running for Minnesota governor on a platform of religious freedom for all and lingering impalement for terrorists, just about the only aspect of the campaign you could call mainstream was that the candidate had a MySpace account. With 47.3 million members and a growth rate of 5 million more per month, the number one social network service (having decisively vanquished the early front-runner Friendster) is fast becoming an obligatory whistle-stop for pop-icon aspirants eager for MySpace’s prime demo: 14- to 34-year-olds. Recording artists especially—from comeback kings and queens like Neil Diamond and Madonna to fast-aging fresh meat like Hilary Duff—come to this fountain of youth in search of word-of-mouth cred, hiring flacks or fans to manage their tens of thousands of instantly acquired “friendships” and to cultivate the illusion that they even know you exist.
This is not, of course, what the future of online social networking was supposed to look like. In Friendster’s heyday, the Web went gaga over the long-term prospects, proclaiming that tools for tracking friends of friends would strengthen social networks and give new leverage against the existing networks of business, media, and politics. Instead we get MySpace, an ad-saturated Gen-Y playground owned (and mined for marketing data) by as regrettable an intersection of business, media, and politics as exists: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Yet where else could the evolution of the form have led? Any online social network that mattered as much as the Web-heads hoped was bound to interest market forces. And why not hope this one may yet prove itself stronger than the status quo? Getting a vampire elected to state office wouldn’t necessarily settle the question, but it might be a start.