Of the growing number of social music services and apps, none of them have realized the full and broader potential of social platforms; a large gap still exists between listening to music and being social about it. Current music services and apps are not using their integration with Facebook and Twitter to its full potential. Music listeners need a new platform that allows them to discuss, share, and discover music in such a way that rivals face-to-face interaction.
To do this, music services and apps must offer something that basic conversations in person can't: a history of listening, purchases, Likes, concerts attended, and user feedback. All of these metrics provide insight into a music listener’s preferences. Although music recommendations from friends go a long way, recomme
ndations from a program can go even further, offering suggestions that exist outside of the limited number of artists that a user’s friends have heard of.
Creating a profile for any online music service is a step in the right direction, as it puts you in a position where your opinions become valued, or at the very least, seen. The problem with many services is that they feature a profile often akin to those on early Myspace, consisting only of a username, avatar, and favorite artists. These profiles fail to offer any unique characteristics about the user and their preferences, leaving dynamic listeners lost amongst a sea of noise.
Spotify’s “social music” service is limited to a user’s minimal profile and basic sharing, making advanced interaction impossible. By contrast, Last.fm takes the user profile to the next level with the addition of listening statistics and top artists, but it’s Timeline-style comment section results in posts being buried and forgotten shortly after their posting. Finding related artists is a simple process, but those artists often lack that “x factor” that makes the original artist so enjoyable. This Is My Jam is also a step in the right direction, but it feels like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Pandora’s analysis of individual track characteristics associates the music users listen to with other songs, which offers listeners an easy way to passively discover new music. Such analysis may be technically accurate, but music cannot always be broken down into simple defining characteristics. It often misses key emotional qualities that make a song enjoyable.
Although leading music services offer the necessity of high-quality music, key social elements must be expanded upon and combined into a single, easy to use service. For these services to take their social offerings to the next level, they need to focus less on the idea of a simple platform for playback and borrow more from the socially driven motives of current social networks.
Spotify app Swarm.fm thrives on this idea. It presents recent listening trends and suggests new releases from favorite artists. While the overall representation of your listening activity isn’t alway accurate, Swarm.fm shows much promise in what the next generation of social music services and apps might bring. The intuitive interface shows users a broad overview of what’s going on, and provides them with the opportunity to dig deeper if they so choose.
However, not every music listener wants to actively participate in the promotion and discovery of music. As a result, even a perfect social music platform would only have a fraction of the users of sites like Facebook and Twitter. Although the population of music listeners has grown, in part due to the increased portability and connivence of music, it’s unfair to treat those with a passive interest the same as those who actively participate. Apps of the future must realize that active fans only represent the tip of the iceberg, and that it’s extremely hard reach casual listeners.
The ideal social music platform would unobtrusively publish music tastes while suggesting interested users to dive in deeper. It would only publish a few music-related posts. In doing so, casual listeners won’t be barraged with playlists, comments, and listening statistics. Those who are interested, however, can go behind the scenes and find out more, but at their own pace. Trying to take in too much information at once simply overwhelms casual listeners.
Swarm.fm doesn’t currently allow for communication within the app. Users must instead rely on conversation through Facebook, and perhaps this is the best possible direction for a social app like Swarm.fm to head in. The dilemma here is that music services and apps don’t have the sheer amount of users social platforms have, and social platforms don’t have the rights to music.
The next generation of social music services and apps then must work in unison with social platforms, and cater to the average Facebook user’s innate desire to find out more about their friends and acquaintances. Users can find out who was where, at what time, and with whom, so why not subject the listening activities of others to the same meticulous public scrutiny?
Spotify gives Facebook users an invitation: here’s what your friend is listening to — open up Spotify to find out more. This stealthy approach to music discovery caters to a user’s curiosity and offers a way for interested Spotify users to dive deeper and discover more. For casual listeners, it’s more than enough to have a few songs pushed to them on their Timeline a few times a week. This model doesn’t annoy the uninterested and draws in the truly passionate.
Future social music platforms need to convince curious users that their time spent exploring social music will be worthwhile. By offering a new platform to discuss music, users will feel included in a such a way that their input means something to others. There is something to be said about the satisfaction of knowing a friend thoroughly enjoyed an artist you recommended to them, and the future of social music can make this happen sooner and more frequently.
Much can be learned from Facebook’s simplistic approach to discovery. Only the top stories and status updates are shared, and users can go beyond that to find out more. Exploring further provides the instant gratification of sharing a similar interest, finding a new friend, or simply learning more about a person. Although music may not always be a social activity, platforms of the future need to help users to discover music and participate in this activity with others.
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