By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
I like Yo La Tengo, but I have never “Liked” Yo La Tengo on Facebook. Still, Facebook has determined that I would be interested to know that the band has released a new album. It has never done this before — not in the nearly six years I have used the service — so it feels safe to say that Facebook just rolled out a brand spanking new music recommendation engine.
How does it know that I care about Yo La Tengo releasing a new album? Well, I’ve Liked a bunch of bands that are similar to Yo La Tengo in various senses, such as Quickspace, Half Film, My Bloody Valentine, and Mogwai. I’ve also listened to this new Yo La Tengo album, Fade, on Spotify, at least once. Facebook knows about both of those things, and that’s why it put this album into my feed — even though I do not “follow” Yo La Tengo on Facebook:
Ever since Facebook formed a connective tissue across music and people, I’ve been wondering when it would start using that information to, in a sense, become a meta-music (or -movie, -book, -restaurant) service, by pointing people not to Yo La Tengo on a music service when it knows they like the band, but instead, pointing them back to Facebook itself, even after harvesting our behavior from its partners. It looks like that time has come.
Coupled with TechCrunch’s news that “Facebook is done giving its precious social graph to competitors,” this represents a big change in direction for the now-public company: Instead of boosting the usership of these services without asking for anything in return, Facebook is now — sort of — competing with them. Instead of firing up Spotify and its associated apps to find out what new music you should listen to, Facebook has begun to take care of that all on its own. And not only that, but it’s reportedly done doling that information back out to its partners so that they can power their own recommendations.
Facebook is a public company, obligated to “maximize shareholder value.” Based on these expansions of its role, from “connective tissue” to a destination in and of itself, the next question is: Will it go too far, and risk alienating its partners, driving them into the arms of Twitter, Google, or even an upstart like App.net?
Who knows? Ultimately, I’m happy to see Yo La Tengo’s album in my Facebook feed, and I bet other users feel the same way about the music they like — and it’s the users who will ultimately make the decision on how big a role Facebook plays in recommending music and other things, regardless of what its partners have to say. After all, these services need those users too, and Facebook has them.