Facing The Music: Will You Socialize Your Stream?

    Facebook, as expected, unveiled its entry into the world of online music Thursday. The presentation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, together with Spotify CEO, gave from the stage at f8, the Facebook developers conference, confirmed the rumors and leaks that had been floating around for a few days. Everybody with a hand in the streaming music ecosystem, from the aforementioned Spotify to competitors Mog, Rhapsody and Rdio and upstarts like Turntable.fm and many others such as iheartradio, Vevo and Soundcloud (a group, which for ease of reference shall henceforth be referred to as Spoghapsodio.fm) were involved in developing the music integration, which amounts to Facebook Connect on steroids (with a one-time opt-in to share all activity, as opposed to having to approve or initiate each action).


    Whither Ping?
    Can we call this a Ping killer? The mostly forgotten and ignored feature Apple introduced in an attempt to be “social” (it’s just not in the company’s DNA. It should stick to fascist systems, which seems to be working out just fine for it) was on life support anyway. Now, Apple and Facebook are obviously very different companies, but the combined power Spoghapsodio.fm wrapped up in Facebook should be enough to rest some significant business from iTunes (which has no part in Facebook Music). Facebook is a beast, and its moving aggressively into music, even if it’s now is just a deepening of the open graph, is going to make waves for Apple. Not that Apple (which became the most valuable corporation in the world, passing Exxon Mobile, in August) is going to be especially concerned. iCloud not withstanding, because it is little more than a storage locker, iStreaming is something Apple is saving for a rainy day.

    But the Music offering, while central, was not the most striking aspect of what Facebook unveiled. The big shift is the major redesign it has been working on for the last year that is beginning to roll out, starting with the “ticker” sidebar that people are already complaining about and culminating with “Timeline” which takes the place of what your wall used to be, giving a more macro and longer range view of your activities, just as the “ticker” creates a place for short term and more trivial activities. Music is just what Facebook is running up the pole to show people what it can do.

    At f8, Mark Zuckerberg heralded the arrival of a new open graph, repeatedly referring to a “new class of apps.” One developer we spoke to though, chortled at the use of the word apps  to describe the Spoghapsodio.fm integrations, since they will all work the same within Facebook (and all shoot you to their services). In this scenario, Spotify, the example held up as the poster child for Facebook Music, seems particularly unwieldy, since it seems you will have to install and open a separate desktop application to listen (whereas with the browser based services such as Mog and Rdio, there is nothing to install or open except another window). No doubt, Facebook usage will help drive installation of Spotify’s desktop app (as it will use for all the various services involved).


    “Let them be Walmart”
    Mog CEO David Hyman told Prefix that the integration will be the preverbal rising tide that lifts all boats. Increased awareness of streaming music services will help his and all of the other services involved with the integration to grow. Spotify is the biggest, and has a global reach, so Hyman says he understands why they seem to be being touted by Facebook (though, of course, he vociferously affirms that his service is the better product). Spotify has confirmed it has 2 million paid subscribers; Mog doesn’t discuss its subscription numbers. Of Spotify’s seeming size advantage over Mog, Hyman would say only “Let them be Walmart. We’ll be Target. I’m perfectly happy being Target.”

    Hyman did say the free version of Mog was launched expressly because of the Facebook integration, which they had been working on for five to six months. The free version is intended, of course, to create a more seamless transition from Facebook to the outside service (and there are no plans by Mog or Spotify to have players within Facebook). The so-called gas-tank model, in which a free user earns music (i.e. filled up his “gas tank”) through social activity, which some derided, was designed with the integration in mind from the beginning, says Hyman. “What people didn’t know,” he says “was that it would all be automatic. So they don’t have to worry about ‘spamming their friends.” People can get rid of the “gas tank” and ads, of course, by becoming paid subscribers.

    It looks as though Rdio is one upping Mog’s recent freemium offering by promising to launch a free version of its service that is NOT ad supported. All in the interests, says a spokesperson, of creating a frictionless experience when it comes to sharing music. Clicking on Rdio link from Facebook will automatically create a free trial account (once you give your permission for Facebook and Rdio to connect).


    It’s Not The Size of the Boat; It’s the Ocean
    Zuckerberg is confident of Facebook’s ability to increase use of outside services (and one need look no further than the likes of gamemaker Zynga for proof that he’s justified). At f8 Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recounted how Zuckerberg asked him how much he expected Netflix to grow. “I said ‘x,'” Hastings reported, with x being the goal the company was shooting for. According to Hastings, Zuckerberg replied, “Success for Facebook would be if Netflix grows 2’x,'” implying he thought Netflix’s growth would double with a Facebook integration (and it’s pretty hard to bet against the guy; he’s been right so far). And the movie integration is coming, with Netflix leading the charge. But for now, music is first, and the flagship of a new way Facebook is seeking to organize your data. 

    And there will be a tsunami of data. A tsunami wrapped in an avalanche powered by a nuclear explosion.

    Think of how often, if ever, you choose to share your musical activity on Facebook (not talking up a new band but just hitting play). Now imagine that everything you did on a music service (once you agreed to give it permission) was posted in realtime to Facebook’s new “ticker,” the easily ignored feed they’ve developed as a place to relegate, in Zuckerberg’s words, “lightweight activity in a socially acceptable way.” Simply put, its a feed that’s there in realtime, but the posts don’t hang around. So if you happen to glance over and notice that a friend cued up the new Das Racist, it might remind you that you had meant to check out the record. You’ll click on the update and the new integration will shoot you over to Spoghapsodio.fm and you’ll be listening to the same track, whether or not you are currently a subscriber. Facebook also opens a chat window so you can slam and/or praise each other’s taste. 

    A set of algorithms, which Facebook calls Graph Rank, “manages all open graph activity around Facebook,” says Facebook CTO Bret Taylor.  It will do things like aggregate you and your friends music activity and bubble up items that might be of interest, such as many of your friends playing one artist, and update you in your main news feed. It will also create basic infographic summaries of your and friends’ activities.

    Now multiply you and your friends by whatever portion of Facebook’s (now confirmed) 800 billion users worldwide you might expect to do such things. Now multiply that by all the activities Facebook plans to add — reading, watching, cooking, running, you name it — and you get some sense of how much data about Facebook’s users will be generated. 

    While Facebook might have found a way to sort of sweep that activity under the rug with its new redesign, but it will have the data. This will go to the good of user experience on the one hand, giving new dimension to how you can interact about music with your friends, and it’s also likely helping Facebook to target and sell ads. The social network needs both. It needs you to use it, and it needs to make money to survive. 

    Your willingness to engage in this level of sharing probably just depends on your propensity toward privacy. You might not have to be a candidate for a tin hat to balk at the proposition, though.