Extremely Online

Zoomers Are Making Their Own Myspace

To fix social media, do we have to return to the days of the Top 8?

by Tanya Tianyi Chen

Young tech entrepreneur Tiffany Zhong believes we have a loneliness epidemic on social media.

“What I see right now is all social media is just media — it’s not social anymore,” Zhong, 27, tells Bustle. Everyone is ogling at each other’s lives and personalities, but no one is engaging with them.”

That’s why she spent the last 10 years studying social media habits to create a new app called Nospace, which is slated for its official release at the end of April. Zhong promises to deliver Gen Z a social media experience akin to the one millennials once had, via Myspace and early Facebook: personalized profile pages and a stream of casual updates, like what you had for breakfast or what new band you’re obsessed with. “That’s the problem we’re solving: connection with others and self-expression,” she said. Over 380,000 people are on the waitlist.

Nospace will allow users to customize their profiles, share updates on what they’re “watching, eating, reading, listening to IRL,” and “star” or flag their interests, so they can find others with similar tastes. It will also list your closest friends (yes, similar to Myspace’s Top 8).

Nospace joins a growing category of new platforms inspired by the old ones. Other examples include Youni, which describes itself as a platform for sharing IRL memories, and PI.FYI, an app built around recommendations (“You can think of PI.FYI as Letterboxd or Goodreads meets Myspace,” its website reads). It seems that, along with Y2K fashion and point-and-shoot cameras, Gen Zers are also pining for a return to 2000s social media.

Courtesy of Nospace
Courtesy of Nospace
1 / 2

Both Youni and PI.FYI are selling a chance to connect with others rather than passively consuming their content. As Youni’s co-creator, Georgia Gibson, shared in a promo TikTok that went viral last week: “Youni helps you make memories; Instagram, TikTok, Facebook helps you make media. We are the only social network that focuses solely on growing your network in real life ‘cause connections are what counts — not likes.”

With PI.FYI, which grew out of the popular newsletter Perfectly Imperfect, 28-year-old founder Tyler Bainbridge tells Bustle he “wanted to build a new place that's specifically designed to share what you love, while nurturing your own taste.” Users are asked to share a breadth of interests, like their favorite movies, albums, recipes, quotes, and mantras, so like-minded people can find each other.

“We're losing the human touch of a personal recommendation as the internet gets For-You-Page-ified,” Bainbridge added.

Gen Z has grown up immersed in algorithmically-driven social media, and now — emerging from a pandemic and its economic repercussions — they want more simplicity and kinship. They’re sidestepping dating apps when seeking love, and turning away from Instagram and TikTok when seeking friendship. “Gen Z simply are sick of the same old, same old when it comes to social media,” says Katya Varbanova, a brand marketing strategist. “They’re craving new experiences mainstream apps aren’t able to produce … add information overload to that, [and] the comparanoia can lead to anxiety, [eating disorders], and mental health struggles. No wonder Gen Z are craving places that make them feel better, not worse.”

Courtesy of PI.FYI

While much research on the subject has been inconclusive, some evidence suggests that social media has negatively affected young users. Last year, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report advising the public that increased social media use can cause harm to your mental health, including impacting one’s self-esteem, sleep, and physical activities.

One way zoomers are trying to improve their experiences on social media is by leveling the playing field. Instead of rewarding people for flaunting aspirational lives, or putting certain people (like influencers) on a pedestal, newer platforms focus more on one-to-one interactions. There are no subjects and fans, just peers.

Erika Abdelatif, the social media director for Her Campus Media, points out that users are already doing their best to turn algorithmically-driven platforms into group chats, a more democratic medium. “According to the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, the majority of time spent on Instagram today isn’t engaging with feed posts — it’s spent in the DMs and on stories,” Abdelatif says, referring to Mosseri’s 2023 video unpacking how the popular app’s algorithm works. “In other words: they’re in their DMs laughing over memes, going down internet rabbit holes, and discussing current events online more frequently than hanging out or texting.”

There are no subjects and fans, just peers.

In fact, users who've piloted the platform have told her it's like a giant global group chat. On Nospace, there will be a “friends only” feed you can curate for just your closest network, and a chronological global feed, where you can see what every active user is doing or thinking in real time.

“All these other apps these days, it’s just algorithmic. A lot of posts just get pushed down if you don’t get engagement,” Zhong says. She has created a gamified feature for Nospace called a “boost” — a feature similar to a like on Facebook or heart on Instagram — but it won’t allow users to power-rank each other’s content; it will simply be for “fun,” she explains. “It feels like a game. People love leveling up. You get unlimited boosts … Everyone can feel special.”

She hopes apps like hers can encourage more self-expression and bonding. “Loneliness is increasing because of a variety of reasons,” she says. “We don’t have as much to talk about with our IRL friends anymore because everyone watches different content. It’s not like we have the same Sunday shows, or the same shows that drop the same episodes every week.” She hopes Nospace’s chronological status updates and focus on finding shared interests will address this issue.

“It feels lonely to be in a world where we’re just watching our own content, or our own personalized feed of content and videos, instead of connecting with others,” she says. “Socializing is so much more important than ever. It doesn’t exist anymore.”