Help Virb Win the Fight For Tastefulness on the Web

Butters the puppy says:
“I’m not even crate-trained yet and I am on Virb.”

So this is it. Pretty vs. ugly. Clean vs. cluttered. Class vs. schlock.

I’m talking about Virb. And specifically, its newly initiated battle for the hearts and minds of would-be MySpacers.

Those of us in the web industry have had to put up with a peculiar theory since the meteoric rise of MySpace: that encouraging people make absolute pig sties out of their home pages is the leading factor in the success of MySpace and MySpace-like sites. The theory goes even deeper in saying that MySpace itself succeeds because of its own awful design.

The first part of the theory is built on the notion that people, in general, like crap, and the second part of the theory is based on the idea that the younger generation eschews the appearance of order and professionalism in all sorts of design.

Those of us who refuse to believe such claims have our own claims. Specifically that MySpace instead is succeeding despite its woefully gaudy design esthetic. We hold that it was the only social network around a few years ago that did enough important things right in order to build up a huge lead, and since it’s built up that lead, it’s essentially stood still on a foundation that grows shakier by the day.

It was with great anticipation then that I began beta-testing a new site called Virb several months ago. Virb is the brainchild of a company called PureVolume and it’s absolutely everything a social network should be. It matches MySpace feature-for-feature and then some, but the great part about it is the thoughtfulness and style with which everything is presented. Under the keen eye of founder Brett Woitunski and the masterful design acumen of Ryan Sims, every single pixel of the site impresses. From the typography to the interactivity to the copywriting, it’s a jawdropping piece of work. It’s a place you’re proud to have a personal page on.

So what’s missing from Virb? Well, it just launched a couple of weeks ago, so really only one thing: your friends. And that is why — in my opinion — nobody’s been able to unseat MySpace yet. It’s extremely difficult to move entire social circles of people, no matter how great your offering is.

I could write a long review of Virb here but Brian Ford at Newsvine and many others have already done so, so instead I’ll close this entry with a plea:

Check the site out for yourself, and if you like it, be an ambassador in the name of good taste on the web. Invite your friends and let’s see if we can prove the antithesis of the schlock design theory: that better craftsmanship, better taste, and better effort will always win out in the end.

Here’s my page in case you want to kickstart your friends list with /mikeindustries.

59 comments on “Help Virb Win the Fight For Tastefulness on the Web”. Leave your own?
  1. Sean S says:

    I’m there. Now I’m just planning my myspaceicide.

  2. Steve says:

    I have a page at virb, too—and I love it. I never really got into the myspace thing because there were so many turn offs—from the ugly templates, the sparkling gifs, the need to go through 5 pages to get anything done, and I could continue for hours. All I ended up doing with myspace was approving friends when I got an email from myspace saying I had a request.

    One of the great things about virb is that while the site allows flexibility in styling the user profiles—and opens the door for myspace like trash—you have the option to turn the styles off while browsing. This is a great usability feature.

    Great work to the virb team. I’ve already killed more time between classes while at virb that I ever did with myspace. :)

  3. Adam Hobson says:

    Wow, they even make Google AdSense ads look good.

    Though I think I may be social networked out. I’ve already deleted my myspace and living fine without a similar site.

  4. gb says:

    I was looking at your re-did page the other day, thinking “hey, I need to make my page look better”… then I realised I have about 500 other things I should be doing before I take that on. But I’ve damn near become a Virb evangelist… I’ve talked it up some much to my friends that they all seem to think I work for Unborn. But hey, at least I’ve sent a few of them over so far.

    Sadly, though, it seems like the certain friends of mine are only reachable via myspace… and it’s always those types that I impossible to get to move. And so now I find myself checking my old myspace and my virb accounts. Almost as much of a time waste as twittering…

  5. Any particular reason you haven’t looked at Facebook?

    Virb does look feature-complete, and stylish to boot, but Facebook has a very large community, initially from HiEd, but now open to the world. Plus, it’s not hideously ugly like MySpace.

  6. Mike D. says:

    gb: Yeah, I did mine up in about 30 minutes after getting back home from a Friday night.

    Nathan: I like Facebook, but I just don’t use it. It does seem more useful for serious social networking, but serious social networking isn’t really something I do a lot. It’s just cool to have a space (outside your own site) which you can customize to the extent Virb lets you without putting up with the crap MySpace imposes on you.

  7. Tyson Rosage says:

    Hey Mike. Thank you so much for the kind words on VIRB°. We’re all thrilled you and everyone else are enjoying it.

  8. Don says:

    Funny, a place for you neat freaks to gather and drink expensive coffee. I’ll check it out anyway … who knows.

  9. Ian Lloyd says:

    Y’know, you’re dead right – it looks nice, seems to have all the right features but I’m still a bit ‘meh’ about it. I know I’m not the only one who’s fed up continually having to add my profile (and then my friends) to another social network. For me it’s Flickr, Twitter (I resisted that for a while), LinkedIn for the professional side of things … and that’s pretty much it. I tried Orkut when everyone else did, and dumped it like everyone else did (apart from the Brazilians, of course, who took over that network big style). I’ve never had or wanted a MySpace account. I tried too which also looked good but I just didn’t need another site like this to maintain/take part in.

    I wish Virb good luck – but equally I wish good luck for any such site that manages to unseat MySpace and replace it with something tasteful.

  10. Conánn says:

    Virb is really nice, though like myspace I just don’t get the social network thing , I must be old. Myspace is a great thermometer for the disconnect between joe public and basic design. While most users would be proud to announce their myspace few would acknowledge that how it’s designed represents who they are (virtually).

  11. I’m fascinated by your post…asking folks to fight MySpace on account of aesthetic sensibility. From what I’ve uncovered talking to people who are passionate about MySpace, the value they get from the site has little to do with the way it looks. In fact, some appreciate that they can make it look like anything they want. I call this the MySpace Problem…because it’s way too easy to judge the site on the way it looks without asking what value people are really getting from it. I think we all suffer from this from time to time. It’s simply human nature to judge by visual impression when other factors aren’t as close to the surface. Even so, as a non-MySpacer myself, the fact that anybody can get value from it is still a little surprising.

  12. Max says:

    * Disclaimer: I think social networking is for spastic kids under the age of 14 and for social rejects over the age of 14.

    I feel your pain when it comes to poorly designed sites, Mike. If only you could design every site, we’d all be in better hands. But all of the adolecent, pimple-faced, kids who use MySpace probably love sparkly backgrounds and horrid layouts. They want their “space” to mirror their bedrooms. This is an audience who puts stickers on their laptops and draws on their shoes with ink. “Like, cool!”

    As long as we’re talking about sites with cluttered designs, we might as well bring up Amazon and eBay. They look like they were designed in 1992 using Notepad. Classic examples of “band-aid” design. “Hey, let’s sell books! Just slap another tab in the header.”

  13. Rafael says:

    I recently came across Uber as the non-crap alternative to MySpace (it’s also only a couple of weeks old), but I have to say, it’s not as cool as Virb. They’ve really got to work with a decent, modern designer who knows something about web standards with Virb, which is refreshing to see.

  14. Brian Ford says:

    Thanks for the link!

    I’m certainly a huge fan — and my hope is that having access to a template will motivate me to actually learn a bit about setting up my own space. (Something I’ve always wanted to do — Newsvine has distracted me a bit from that goal, though.)

    I like that my Virb profile takes care of itself, in a sense. The Flickr integration is nice, as it means that my space updates as often as my Flickr profile. Even though I wish the Virbtunes would provide more useful information about the songs I’m listening to (iTS links, when available) I like that it syncs up to iTunes and provides content in that way.

    In essence, Virb feels “Apple-ish” to me — and that’s what pulled me in.

    My next goal is to switch my Myspace profile picture over to something that reflects that I’ve “virtually” boarded up the windows and moved over to Virb.

    And then, of course — I need to make some use of my invites.

    Hopefully, they fill in some of the empty spaces soon, though. I really hate to have people show up and see “under construction” notices.

  15. Sameer Vasta says:

    I’ve been trying to get everyone I know to switch over to VIRB, but it’s been pretty tough to pull people out of their MySpace ruts. I’ll keep working on it, but I’m sure this post will definitely get a few people thinking…

    (And yes, I know my VIRB profile is horrendous, but that’s my project for the weekend.)

  16. Austin Schneider says:

    Amen Mike.

  17. Ryan says:

    Virb does look good, and if I had the necessity or wish, I would definitely go with them over MySpace. However, I’m a college student and college students love Facebook, and I’d rather avoid having more than one social networking site to consume my precious time.

  18. Kurt Krejny says:

    Thanks for helping expose this site to the masses! If VIRB doesn’t crash my browser likes MySpace, then I’m all for it.

  19. Don says:

    Well, it seems obvious what needs to happen … a seamless way to say use my profile in and out of virb, myspace, facebook. Kind of like the passport concept I suppose, but it would seem doable with a little work …

    Ultimately web 3.0 will be about data free of interface or platform I suspect in any event. Of course these entities have nothing to gain from cooperating with each other in the first review, although facebook took a lot of steam from myspace I think. Would cooperation keep people where they are thus fixing market share …

    Interesting marketing concepts … more than the fashion ad to me personally.

  20. Sameer Vasta says:

    Um yeah, didn’t link to my VIRB profile up there, copy and pasted the wrong link. Instead, I linked to another atrocity – Dan’s logo being ripped off. So yeah, I apologize for that, but I also encourage people to check that out too.

  21. Chris says:

    I hate myspace, always have. I have a profile on there that has nothing done to it. The only reason I have the thing in the first place is to placate my wife, since she for some reason enjoys that unholy cesspool.

    Anyway, perhaps, just maybe this will be something I actually get into. Thanks for the info!

  22. Jason says:

    Myspace has so much more potential to not only be a far better, more reliable service… but to delight it’s users with what could be a far more useful, and tasteful, UI. This doesn’t mean that it couldn’t still allow people to completely make a mess out of a profile page. It’s a case of people just don’t know what they’re missing, they don’t even realize they are “settling”.

  23. DocDave says:

    Finally someone who gets a clue of what a social network should be! Thanks for the find Mike. I look forward to getting a profile up there soon.

  24. Brian Ford says:

    Shoot — didn’t link to my profile:


  25. Josh Byers says:

    Strictly speaking to the design side of things if Virb catches on with the young’ns the user profiles will end up looking just as ugly as the junk on MySpace.

    Most MySpace users couldn’t code their way out of a cereal box (whatever that means) so what they end up doing is copying and pasting some atrocity from a template site. It’s not that they want it to be ugly those are just the easiest options for them. This is also possible at Virb since they allow direct editing of virtually all of the css and html.

    I’ve already seen some very ugly Virb profiles and it would just be a matter of time.

    That said I love it for what it can be and what it already is. They’ve done a lot that is excellent.

  26. Brian Ford says:

    Strictly speaking to the design side of things if Virb catches on with the young’ns the user profiles will end up looking just as ugly as the junk on MySpace.

    As ugly – yes. As destructive – probably not. Myspace does have a visual problem, but the “bigger” problem is the “crash my browser” to “view profile” ratio. Anytime it’s as likely as not that my browser will crap out just by viewing a profile — there’s a problem.

    I’m not a genius on the subject, nor do I know much about the back end of either site, but I suspect that a properly coded site can avoid these problems by not allowing multiple videos to load at once, and simply by being properly coded.

    As for “ugly” — Virb allows for a non-destructive way to “remove customization” on anyone’s profile. Doing so strips the site to the default layout. Boring and plain — but accessible and certainly not painful to view. In the upper right corner any profile, simply hit “remove customization” and you’re set.

  27. Tim Clark says:

    I’m sure there are some cool parallels a sociology student could make about how social networks are separating the internet society into upper class (virb) and lower class (myspace). I can’t really support it, so I’ll just make the thin observation and move along.

    With the abundance of profile sites out there, I’m really surprised there isn’t more of a movement to create an open protocol to link them together. I could imagine my friends list as really just an aggregate of profile pages from a plethora of sites, from the strict social networks (myspace / friendster / facebook) to the sites with pseudo-sn capabilities (netflix / flickr / livejournal). All they would need is a common method of identifying an avatar, a link, and some basic profile junk (which obviously the linked-to site would need to support via their profiles). Users could use the network they’re most comfortable with while not losing the ability to keep in touch with (read: stalk) who they want.

    Right now, I think I have profiles / friends lists setup on a dozen or so different websites. As cool as Virb looks, I don’t know if I want to maintain another.

  28. Mike D. says:

    Right. I’m not saying Virb should not allow people to uglify their profiles. I’m just saying that there’s a little bit of Broken Windows Theory here. Put people in an environment with crap profiles and they will be more likely to create crap. Put them around nice stuff and they’ll be more likely to create something nice. We’re all just chameleons.

  29. Calvin says:

    Virb seems cool. But, there is a serious shortage of women there. Yo ladies, if you happen to have a Virb account, add me as a friend to balance things out:


  30. Calvin says:

    ….. oh wait, only dudes hang out at Mike’s place. Ah well.

  31. Brian Ford says:

    Calvin —

    I tried to “guess” Mike’s Virb profile to check something earlier — and guess wrong.

    But, it took me here, and there appear to be a lot of girls there. Have fun.

  32. Christina says:

    Looks interesting. I’m so sick of myspace at this point that I definitely willing to give Virb a shot. As if twitter and everything else didn’t keep me busy enough.

  33. Andrew says:

    I hate MySpace; I think it is ghastly. Virb is everything MySpace isn’t and I think that is good; however, the thing about Myspace is that it was allowed to be ghastly. The fact that they all looked like crap said that no one is imposing order on this.

    If you are trying to find your own identity, i.e. a teenager then the idea of someone saying that you should produce nice, clean, well composed, expressions of yourself seems somehow very restrictive, and Virb might be seen that way. In comparison at least.

    For the record I am 30; I totally get Virb. It seems nice, clean, well thought out, and, well, grown up. Something I think Myspace tries not to be.

  34. Josh Byers says:

    As for “ugly” — Virb allows for a non-destructive way to “remove customization” on anyone’s profile.

    That is very cool. I didn’t realize it was for all profiles – I thought it was just for my own. That feature alone kicks MySpace in the head. What I wouldn’t give to have a button like that on CrapSpace.

    Put them around nice stuff and they’ll be more likely to create something nice. We’re all just chameleons.

    Actually most people are more like sloths and leaches – they want someone else to do the creating for them. And then those that spit out templates rarely do a good job because they’re just interested in creating as many as possible to get the high google ranking. But I get what you’re saying.

  35. Marc Rullo says:

    Ryan Sims? I remember that kid from when he was a Big Noob just watching the sky. If young designers were penny stocks I’d be rich! Good stuff.

    I can’t stand MySpace. It’s like a giant, festering, puss-oozing gash across the web landscape. No, wait… It’s a big scarlet whore feeding on the entropic, souless nihilism of people who don’t mind wallowing in their own excrement.

    For the sake of form and beauty, let’s Virb the bitch back to the void!

  36. It wont work. My space will win out mainly because it was first and people do not like change and also because the youth are already there. We may get geeks and other web people over on it but not the majority…

    So I would say its a waste of time.

  37. Matthew says:


    I disagree with your comments

    “leading factor in the success of MySpace and MySpace-like sites. The theory goes even deeper in saying that MySpace itself succeeds because of its own awful design”

    Facebook has tons of avid users, it’s no MySpace in sheer numbers because it deals with a smaller demographic, but it has a very clean and user friendly design that is quite impressive for a large social networking site.

    I am a user of both and while my MySpace usage has dropped to near zero despite the amount of friends I have on my list. I am still using Facebook as much today as I did when I first got my account.

    As a designer my-self I am appalled by MySpaces design, functionality, and the fact it throws front side server errors on almost hourly basis. But Facebook is that one glimer of hope out there, that I think can actually de-throne MySpace.

  38. Jared says:

    Virb is definitely the best social networking site out there. From a usability standpoint, it’s very intuitive for the novice user and scalable enough to satisfy us web geeks. I was very much blown away with the whole package.

    Getting people to switch over is from Myspace going to be more of an effort than when people switched from Friendster to Myspace. Social networking was still in its infancy back then. Designers will switch in a heartbeat because Virb answers our major complaints. Most average users are already on Myspace and Facebook and are complacent. Switching to another site is out of the question unless everyone else in their friend list switches. Unfortunately, I think Virb is two years too late. I’ll still try to get people to switch.

    Oh, and nice choice on The Decemberists!

  39. Brian Ford says:

    “leading factor in the success of MySpace and MySpace-like sites. The theory goes even deeper in saying that MySpace itself succeeds because of its own awful design”

    I don’t think those were Mike’s comments — I think those were “general consensus” comments, and I’m pretty sure Mike also disagrees with those comemnts:

    Specifically that MySpace instead is succeeding despite its woefully gaudy design esthetic. We hold that it was the only social network around a few years ago that did enough important things right in order to build up a huge lead, and since it’s built up that lead, it’s essentially stood still on a foundation that grows shakier by the day.

    Your account of switching over to facebook merely proves his point.

  40. Mike D. says:

    Matthew: Brian is correct. Thanks Brian.

  41. Mark says:

    Can somebody explain to me what the deal is with the way people use commenting on MySpace and Virb? People make comments on your profile and you respond on theirs? So every time you read someone’s comments, it’s like reading one half of a conversation. I’ve even seen this spill over onto people’s blogs. Am I just too old to get it?

  42. Kevin C says:

    Regarding the design of myspace. I think it’s quite simple. The homemade amateur look gives it a little bit of credibility. Virb is nice, but it looks like it was produced by a corporation, myspace looks more like it was created by a bunch of music lovers who aren’t professional.

    If I go into a retro second hand clothes shop, part of it’s charm is the dodgey/bad design and the little quirks. It’s genuine and it’s real and it’s got more personality than an over-designed H&M. I think it’s the same with mySpace.

    Hobbiest design has it’s place.

  43. Johari Lanng says:

    If everyone here could just pretend for a second that they aren’t uber-cool hipster designers (just for a second, trust me, it won’t hurt) – how would you feel if you went to a social networking site that had super-high production values? Would you feel like you’d found your spiritual brothers, or would you feel excluded, like some dude who’d just walked into a room full of supermodels? (which is nice in it’s own way)

    It isn’t hard to figure out why MySpace looks like a turd – it’s the best most people can manage without feeling pressured.

    For the record, I am an advocate of better quality in all social-network sites, I’m just saying is all …

  44. I go where my friends are.

    Plus, Trig looks more fun.

  45. Mike D. says:

    Regarding professionalness vs. ghettoness:

    Virb lets you ghettoize your profile all you want. The only difference is that the default is a bit more tasteful than MySpace’s default and customization is a lot easier and more powerful.

  46. Chris Carter says:

    I find another interesting social commentary that the “designer” community always rips on MySpace, degrading it as the “worst” social networking site. It’s a constant buzz in the design community.

    I can understand it. MySpace certainly doesn’t have the gilded look that all the “designer” made sites have. It doesn’t have XHTML/WHATWG/WASP stickers on it. It doesn’t have any awesome rockstart designer names attached to it either.

    However, what most designers seem to miss, that in my experience straddling the line between design and development many designers do tend to miss, is the fine line between form and function.

    MySpace is excellent at it’s function. And no, I’m not talking about clicking links or typing text in boxes. I’m talking about the social part. It always gets touched on, but almost always gets blown off too – all of your friends are on MySpace. And most people you’ll meet, if they’re younger than 40, will be on there too. And that’s the whole point. You can get to know people, keep in touch with people, and yes, even meet people if you’re on MySpace.

    Evangelizing is great, but if your only argument is that Virb, et al “look better” or “work better”, you’re going to be talking over people’s heads.

  47. Mike D. says:

    Chris: I disagree. I don’t think MySpace is better than Virb from a functional standpoint at all. It’s much, much worse actually. It’s *not* easier to message your friends. It’s *not* easier to send mail. It’s *not* easier to navigate around. The only thing that’s better about it is — as you say — the fact that your friends are currently on it. Was it the best thing available at the time your friends started using it? Maybe. But it’s not now, and it’s only inertia that is keeping it where it is.

  48. Brian Ford says:

    Yeah, I’ve gotta agree, though I have some issues with Virb in that regard.

    Why is it that (on Virb) I can’t tell when someone on my list is online — and immediately talk to them? (Hell, just the fact that I can’t see whether they’re online is kind of annoying in-and-of itself.) Social Networking sites don’t seem to grasp “instant” “real-time” communication as a concept. Generally, the concept seems to be somewhat “bulletin board-ish” and that doesn’t suffice in 2007.

    Myspace (at least) had a chat system, though it sucked all kinds of butt. (It was impossible to chat with someone if said person was chatting with another person.)

    I love Virb — in fact, it’s gotten me through today’s Newsvine downtime, thanks to the Newsvine group I started (and which seems pretty popular) but I wish some of it’s social features were more immediate. I’ve certainly gotten more out of it than my year (or so) old Myspace account.

    In the end: Virb seems to be in a position to improve, whereas Myspace does not.

  49. Chris Carter says:

    I’m not suggesting that MySpace is easier to use, as I’m not talking about functional from the technical perspective. I’m talking about the business perspective, the one that is the priority for the vast majority of people. Perhaps I should have worded it differently.

    However, MySpace succeeds because it captures what people are looking for, and stays true to it’s name – “My” space. It lets people get as creative as they want to, and pull their friends in too.

    It’s also got a shitload of marketing money behind it, which doesn’t hurt either :)

  50. I think at least most of PureVolume users will signup/switch to Virb. They probably have already.

    And for those people, Virb won’t seem like an overly designed corporated MySpace, nor will they feel excluded in any way. I think PureVolume users will feel right at home, since we (PureVolume user myself too) have gotten used to the clean usable design by Ryan&Co.

    H*ll, even I signed up for Virb, just to make a statement of some sort :)
    I still have 0 friends there, and haven’t done a thing with it. I have never really used MySpace, I just listen to some artist previews here and there, nor am I in anyway active in the social networks. But with Virb, I feel a strong need to change that.

  51. Adrianb says:

    Sometimes I have to remind myself that the majority of people are not designers.

    The Surprising Truth About Ugly Websites

    Thanks for the heads up on Virb Mike, I have NEVER liked MySpace (or any of the others for that matter. ie. Hi5 etc.) Virb looks gooooooood. Nice page there by the way.

  52. Vernon says:

    Thanks for pointing out virb, I’m very impressed by the site! I have an almost pathological aversion to Myspace, 99 out of 100 sites there make my eyes bleed. Virb is actually one of the more beautiful sites I have come across, the ones that are featured on the home page are excellently designed. Actually, I even stopped at the bottom of the page, once I noticed how the google ads were so tastefully integrated! I do not use google ads on any sites that I design, but I might have to crib that now that I see how it can be done well.

    That being said, I suspect they may have already missed the train to a certain extent. Facebook appears to be site that everybody’s joining, especially in the 22-35 year-old demographic. I’m actually quite impressed by the facebook interface, though it’s not quite as lovely as virb. However, in the end, it’s the number of users that counts, and facebook is definitely on the uptrend here.

  53. Vincent says:

    The thing i like about Virb is that they focus on making new stuff before they make all the boring stuff. Like the blog importer that they just recently ported out.

    I also like the fact that your can really customise your profiles up, that’s why i made

  54. Vincent says:

    The thing i like about Virb is that they focus on making new stuff before they make all the boring stuff. Like the blog importer that they just recently ported out.

    I also like the fact that your can really customise your profiles up, that’s why i made

  55. Josh Byers says:

    Well, I finally went all the way. I divorced MySpace and started an affair with Virb. My Profile

  56. Jordan says:

    Agreed. With everything.

    My Virb.

  57. […] was browsing Mike Davidson’s blog and he mentioned a groovy new myspace type network online called […]

  58. Vihjai Raven says:

    I’ve read the article, checked out the site, thought about it and decided not to sign up.


    I’m a member of so many sites now that I can barely keep up with them. I am on Facebook, MySpace and a lot more. I really don’t have time to sign up, post my information, create a blog, customize everything and start a new friends list here. I was on Live Journal for a while, but left it due to rude people and lack of time…plus, I just didn’t like it at all.

    I know I’m going to get cyber-tomatoes tossed at me for people thinking I have such an “ugly” MS profile, but it’s one I designed myself and I like it. If you ask me, some of the profile designs here are just as bad if not worse than MS has. It’s a person’s opinion on how pretty something is, and believe me, I’ve had messages from others saying just how cool my profile and blog are. I look at it like this: if you don’t like it, don’t bother to look at it. There are some beautiful profiles / blogs on MS, believe it or not. Yes, there are some ugly ones but those are few and far between.

    I do wish all of you the best of luck however. Blessings!

  59. […] Mike Davidson, explicando el éxito de MySpace. […]

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