I recently had an insight about the interfaces of two extremely popular social networking websites: MySpace and Facebook. These sites allow you to create a page on their network where you can post a photo and profile of yourself, allowing your friends to contact you online. However, these two specific sites take very different approaches.

MySpace is centered around independent bands and grew out of a desire to promote the LA club scene. Personal My Spaceprofiles almost always feature music and often have several music videos playing. You can customize the layout, background, color scheme, and just about anything else on the page (there are actually external websites offering free MySpace layouts). Everyone can be a groupie. The site can be slow at times, but that doesn’t seem to stop millions of users from spending hours there.

College campuses are the unifying factor of Facebook. FacebookYour invitation is sent to your school e-mail account. The pages are relatively uniform with very little customization, but they always load quickly. Facebook allows you further define the details of your “friendship” (common clubs, you both lived in the same dorm, you’re brothers, etc…). Mark Zuckerberg created the site as a way of putting faces on the flat listings of the Harvard directory.

Both sites accomplish roughly the same thing and are highly successful, yet take almost opposite approaches. What does this tell us about software development? Know your audience. Grassroot campaigns should give users the ability to personalize the way they’re spreading a message. Corporate consortiums should make it easy for members to quickly find and contribute accurate information. Both are important and need very different user interfaces.