What is MySpace now: an empty space?

October 11, 2010, 4:28 PM UTC

The new logo could be a way for users to see their best selves in the soon to be rebooted social network. Or it could lead them to see nothing at all.

Late last week, the new MySpace logo was unveiled at the Warm Gun Design conference in San Francisco: the word “my” in a sans serif font (presumably Helvetica) followed by a bracketed underscore representing a space. Get it?

“MySpace is a platform for people to be whatever they want, so we’ve decided to give them the space to do it,” said MySpace VP of User Experience Mike Macadaan during the event. According to reports, the space will fill with random user-generated art when someone hovers over the logo, but will remain blank otherwise.

Our initial reaction: huh? Props to the social network, owned by parent company News Corp., (NWS) for pushing the creative envelope — that’s arguably the social network’s best move if it hopes to turn things around — but having an almost entirely blank logo (for the most part) sounds like a bad idea, like a desperate notepad scribble during a late night brainstorm session that was never intended to be the final product.

The logo has garnered mixed reactions so far. On TechCrunch, former co-President Jason Hirschhorn, who left MySpace back in June, applauded the company’s efforts as being “bold and brave.” Twitter user Dustin Davis liked the artistic new direction. “I think it’s pretty smart and will recreate the ‘in-the-know’ feel they need,” he Tweeted.

Negative reactions have been just as swift.

“MySpace reveals their new logo before the world, the final nail in myspace’s irrelevant coffin,” Tweeted Jesse Jarrett. Even the Gap, which recently unveiled its redesign to heavy criticism, tossed some haterade MySpace’s way via its dedicated “GapLogo” Twitter handle: “That new MySpace logo? I mean I know I have very little room to talk but holy s&!t.”

Rosabel Tao, a spokesperson for MySpace, stated that the logo will be one element of the MySpace’s upcoming design, which was reported to hit by end of October, but could arrive by the end of the year. To prepare, the company already tweaked its homepage and profiles back in August. It’s curious that the logo would be released ahead of the redesign, rebranding the same site that has been flat for years now, rather than saving the new logo for a new user experience.

Late last month, Jon Miller, News Corp.’s chief digital officer overseeing properties which include MySpace, described the social network’s redesign as a “full swing of the bat,” or complete overhaul, so much so he predicts it may turn off current users. “I can’t see how it doesn’t shed some people initially.”

“MySpace really needs a product reset,” MySpace President Mike Jones told Fortune during an August interview at their Beverly Hills headquarters. “It needs a new visual skin, a new visual platform, that allows users to really discover these new products we’re releasing. Until we do something like that, it’s really hard to market.” At the time, MySpace was still knee-deep in planning its relaunch, which Jones said would involve a totally new interface on top of new products like the recently-launched Pandora-like Romeo mobile app for music videos.

The redesign comes at a crucial time for MySpace. News Corp. has been struggling to turn the social network around, which in recent years, has lost users and revenue to competition like Facebook and Twitter, which has innovated during a period when MySpace arguably hasn’t. In the most recent quarter, the digital division which includes MySpace lost $174 million. And analysts expect the social network’s ad sales will drop from 32% of overall U.S. social network ad spending in 2009 to just 19% in 2010. (Compare that to Facebook’s 36% share last year to 50% this year.)

If the new logo is anything to go by, it indicates the company’s willingness to explore new ideas at the risk of failure and intense criticism. (In a way, it’s reminiscent of Aol’s recently redesigned logo, which is also a simple sans-serif font with a lot of different background treatments.) But perhaps the bigger question is: Are the ideas there? MySpace needs to do more than offer up a platform for its users — it already does that, and so does Facebook and Twitter — it must offer a specific, focused vision to current and potential users that will make it stand out.

While, a logo with a big, blank vacuous space might encourage users to imprint the site with their own visions of it, it might also just look like a big, empty, meaningless space.