There are more than 140 million registered users on MySpace

As I write these lines, there are more than 140 million registered users on MySpace, and the numbers keep rising at an alarming rate. (In case you’ve recently returned from an expedition to Mars, MySpace is a website that allows anyone to showcase their activities and interests and create social networks.)  

I realise of course that most of these countless millions will mainly be interested in the latest episodes of US teen drama One Tree Hill, but hey, even if only 0.1 per cent of them have a vague interest in chemistry, that gives me an audience of 120 000, which is not to be sniffed at. And if all of those random garage musicians can use MySpace to promote their work, so can I.  

Thus, last April, I launched my very own space mission into the uncharted depths of MySpace, feeling at least as brave as any astronaut in history. Signing up is easy. Establishing a meaningful network of contacts, however, requires some time and effort. At the start, you have exactly one ’friend’, a rather dull looking bloke called Tom, who turns out to be one of the co-founders of this web phenomenon.  

Obviously, to find more friends, I’ll need to go out. MySpace feels like a big city: you come across unfamiliar faces all the time, but there are also lots of opportunities for contacts and activities of all kinds. To break out of the isolation of the one-friend newby, groups are a good place to start. You sign up as a member of the group, and then you can use a message board or send out bulletins to all group members.  

MySpace’s ’chemistry club’, established in July 2004, now boasts over 3700 members. This group provides a mixture of topics ranging from mundane lab problems (where to buy glassware) to the slightly suspicious (where to buy cyanide). A chemist from the Gulf Coast in Texas has used the club to ask whether there are any ’single, sane female chemistry students out there looking for the same in a male chemistry student’. Another lonely chemist asks whether anyone is into polymers. 

Meanwhile, the ’chemistry is pHantastic’ group, set up last October, only has 15 members but claims to be for ’everyone with a soft spot for titrations’. Here, you can even pick up the odd joke (What do you do with a dead chemist? Barium).  

Most of all, MySpace provides easy and informal access to lots of other chemists and chemistry enthusiasts. So anybody who would want to talk to youngish chemists could do worse than start there.  

Scientists in MySpace appear to have more questions than answers. I’ve taken up the habit of posting a link to my news stories in Chemistry World  in one of these group forums. Some of these posts have triggered interesting reactions, typically from keen students in the US. 

After 11 months of MySpace exploration, I have a rudimentary contact network and feel confident when I’m out to explore this parallel universe. And a universe of possibilities it really is. Other social networking sites, such as Facebook and Bebo, specialise on specific groups, such as students or teenagers. MySpace, with the advantage of arriving first and its mindboggling speed of growth, simply takes everything and everybody in.  

For me, now that my articles appear online almost continuously throughout the month, the blog is a convenient tool to keep track of them. And on the days in between I copy/paste whatever tickles my fancy. Considering the widely cited dictum that every personal blog has only one reader (namely the blogger), I am surprised and quite chuffed to find that a significant number of people actually read mine. By now, it attracts more hits per time than my website. MySpace is a weird place.  

Michael Gross