The wonky, pre-Facebook, customizable web page-based social network Myspace has lost all the music uploaded to the platform between 2003 and 2015, totaling more than 50 million songs from 14 million artists, which the company confirmed only after some participants in a technology-focused subreddit pointed it out.
“As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace,” the company said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
just checked my teen band's page and yep, the music is all gone!— James Vincent (@jjvincent) March 18, 2019
I feel conflicted! it's not music i want anyone to listen to but i'm still embarrassed-nostalgic about it. i hope one of my bandmates has a copy of those tracks https://t.co/d0cip3SlVN
The news comes at a time when preservation of web history is a particularly hot topic. The Internet Archive’s Jason Scott criticized Myspace’s mishandling of “10 years of unique digital music,” and compared it to Google’s recent decision to wipe many of the public posts, images, video, and account data from its failed Google+ social network. “Anyone who doesn’t think this is going to happen to YouTube is kidding themselves,” Scott added in a tweet.
Digital archivists — most publicly, the ones at Internet Archive — have been fighting an uphill battle this year, having been tasked with preserving millions of photos Flickr had marked for deletion in February, and years’ worth of “adult content” banned abruptly from Tumblr in December.
Andy Baio, founder of the XOXO Festival and the former chief technology officer of Kickstarter, shared MySpace’s official version of the data loss on Twitter but immediately questioned it, writing, “I’m deeply skeptical this was an accident. Flagrant incompetence may be bad PR, but it still sounds better than ‘we can’t be bothered with the effort and cost of hosting 50 million old MP3s.’”
His suspicions make sense given the current state of Myspace, which was purchased by NewsCorp for $580 million in 2005 and trampled a few years later by the rise of Facebook. As a DIY music platform, Myspace started losing its space in popular culture to first YouTube and then SoundCloud. Now, as John Herrman wrote for the New York Times Magazine in December:
Myspace.com is still online, but that doesn’t mean Myspace didn’t die. It’s best understood as undead: existing in some corporeal form, with nothing left behind the eyes… It’s a sleepy news and entertainment portal, owned by the magazine publisher Meredith and vaguely affiliated with People and Entertainment Weekly.
There are still dedicated users who have been there since the beginning, but they spend most of their time surfing among thousands of abandoned profiles and looking for rare moments of verifiably human contact, essentially living in a digital post-apocalypse. Building a music career there would be virtually impossible now, given the lack of audience and the glitchiness of media upload tools that don’t appear to have any kind of engineering maintenance schedule.
In 2011 — just after a failed attempt to relaunch Myspace around music, with help from Justin Timberlake — the company was sold for $35 million to an advertising platform with an interest in its troves of user data, which, though eroded, was still useful enough if it could be paired with more recent social media platforms on other sites. Myspace’s new owner pooled this data into something it called the Advertising Cloud, which has changed hands twice more to end up in the hands of Meredith Corporation — the Iowa-based former radio and TV empire that still publishes Martha Stewart Living and is currently in the business of selling off national magazines to individual billionaires. It’s also trying to sell the ad tech company that bought Myspace, though what money remains to be squeezed out of it is hard to say.
It took a while for people to even notice that all this music was gone, and it doesn’t seem as though Myspace is particularly contrite about it. A different Reddit user posted in a tech support subreddit a year ago, sharing a screenshot of a terse email exchange with Myspace. This user had asked why the Myspace media player wasn’t able to play music from 2007 to 2011, suggesting that the files were missing. Initially, the company wrote that it was a known issue with no specific date for resolution; then the spokesperson pivoted and responded, “Due to a server migration files were corrupted and unable to be transferred over to our updated site. There is no way to recover the lost data. Thanks, Myspace.”
“After years of relaunches, redesigns, data breaches and general neglect,” Herrman wrote months ago, “many Myspace users have lost the ability to contact their former selves.” You could argue that a hemorrhaging of old files shouldn’t surprise or upset these users too much at this point, and that looking at the dusty, jumbled mess the platform had turned into should have been more than enough of a suggestion to go ahead and back up whatever files they didn’t want to lose.
But that’s clearest only now — at the moment when all these tech companies that had implicitly promised to provide a platform for creative works forever started taking things back.
Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.