This post is about the need for a universal music passport online.
Most of the time when you sign up for a new service, you have some way to find people you might know who are using that service. Here’s some samples:
Any new service wants to show you what they can do. And if a large part of their value comes from being connected with other people, they want to get you connected to as many people as possible right away. On Foursquare they want you to see where your friends are going and what tips they’re leaving. Otherwise you miss out on the social aspect of the site, and are less likely to see its value.
Twitter/Facebook/Google/email groups have come to act as contact passsports online. When I sign up for a new service, I don’t have to start from scratch, I build on what I’ve already got in those services. And it usually works. Odds are that there are at least some people I’m friends with on Facebook that I would want to be friends with on Foursquare. And in a business networking site, there could be value in importing your email contacts.
But there’s a problem when it comes to using the same approach in music sites. And that is: just because I’m interested in what you have to say doesn’t mean I’m interested in what you listen to.
I’m not being a jerk here. I’m sure most people in my life would say the same about me (aside from the being interested in what I have to say part). Musical taste is a highly personal thing, and one that, in my experience, doesn’t corelate to your ability to get along in any other arena. Heck, I’m pretty sure that’s the central point of High Fidelity.
When I choose contacts on Facebook, it’s usually based around “Do I know you?” When it’s who to follow on Twitter, it’s “Am I interested in what you have to say?” And when I add you to my email contacts it’s “Do I need to have an ongoing communication with you?” None of those things mean that I care to listen to your iPod right now. And yet here’s the “find people” screens on Grooveshark, Rdio and Ex.fm:
Again, just because I’m friends with you or am interested in your opinions on technology, that does not mean I have the same musical tastes as you. More often then not, importing contacts from these services will skew them in a direction I don’t want to go. The only exception on here is Ex.fm’s integration with Tumblr, because Tumblr is a great place to follow music bloggers.
Twitter, hypothetically, would be useful except I don’t tend to follow music people on there because why follow 140-character Tweets about music when you can subscribe to the blog? Plus, it goes the other way: just because I like the same music as you doesn’t mean I want to subscribe to your lifestream. This is why I have a small firewall between my music self and myself online: people who want to listen to my music don’t necessarily want my opinions on Canadian politics, and people who are friends with me via Facebook don’t necessarily want to listen to my music.
Last.fm seems to recognize this. While you can add friends from other arenas, their focus (indeed, their entire recommendation engine) is based around “neighbours”– people you don’t know but who are listening to similar music to you. This is far more effective than Rdio’s approach of suggesting I listen to bands I have no interest in because some people I follow on Twitter has.
I’ve been building up a strong database of places to get music recommendations in a couple of places. On the Hype Machine, I’ve explicitly chosen to follow people based on their musical tastes. Most of these are bloggers, some are simply fans. I’ve also chosen to follow artists I like, and “hearted” songs I particularly like. I’d love it if other music services could accesss that data when I sign up and start there. Slowly but surely, Ex.fm is building a database of both websites and listeners I like, and Soundcloud is mostly based around me following musicians or labels.
Then there’s Last.fm. Since everything and its dog can “scrobble” (including they Hype Machine, Ex.fm, Rdio, iTunes, and Grooveshark), it probably has the strongest database of my musical tastes out there. Maybe it wouldn’t be in their best interests to open up that data as something that could be used by services like Rdio, but it would certainly be useful to me as a user. Imagine how much quicker you could get a sense of a new music service’s ability to give you value if it could pull in your listening history rather than starting from scratch. It’s what’s done in social networking– I’d love to see it extend to music.
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