With personalized Internet radio and music platforms becoming more prominent, integrating social networks have become a key component to online music discovery. Aside from learning that Robert Scoble and I have similar tastes in music (The Rolling Stones, OutKast, and Madonna to name a few), I’ve also deduced that Facebook has the capacity to play a crucial role in users online music discovery process.
Unveiled last September, Apple released iTunes 10 with Ping, a music-oriented social network allowing users to follow artists and their friends to observe what they are listening to and downloading. Positioning itself as the number one music community globally, iTunes has over 160 million iTunes users in 23 countries. To put this into perspective, Facebook has over 500 million active users while Twitter has 23 million active users. With these numbers in mind, I can see why Apple chooses to tap its network of 160 million users to build its own social network. However, despite being a social network itself, one of the biggest hurdles Ping faces is its blocked API access to Facebook, which would allow Ping to access the database of an iTunes user’s friend.
Ping is slightly limiting. Only two of my friends on Facebook and Twitter are using Ping, and neither of them has updated since November of last year. My primary concern of Ping is its effectiveness in facilitating music recommendations to its users. Ping’s platform does not aggregate music from a user’s personal library, and thus the majority of discussions centrally revolve around the music readily available on iTunes, which itself is limiting. Combined with a small network of users, this created complications in my search for music recommendations.
Since Ping did not satiate my music search, I continued my quest to find music recommendations from others with similar taste in music. In my search, I have found that the Facebook Connect was very valuable across music platforms. In its simplest form, Grooveshark links songs to other users, allowing for the opportunity to extend recommendations onto social platforms. In recent years, Last.FM along with iLike created a Facebook application which allowed users to see how musically compatible they are to their friends. Another example is Pandora, which alerted me the other day that my colleague, Devin Zimmerman, also likes Lil’ Wayne. Pandora integrates Facebook accounts so that Like buttons are synced using the Open Graph API. When these buttons are pressed, this information is included onto a user’s Facebook Graph, allowing Pandora to play music based on a user’s Facebook Likes.
What I am most excited about is seeing how music listeners respond to Rexly. Showcased at TechCrunch Disrupt this week, Rexly emphasized that the problem in music platforms is not an algorithm problem, rather it is a data collection problem. In contrast to Ping, Rexly is able to facilitate comments and suggestions from its platform to Facebook and Twitter for non-Rexly users. Rexly also takes into account that people trust a handful of friends for music suggestions. The Rexly team provides an alternative solution by directing users to create a super-trust group limited to six people based on music, books, and movie preferences rather than on friendship. With the ability to choose what each user prefers to share, this unexposed list allows for users to track what their super-trustees are listening to. With features such as these, it would also be interesting to see if Rexly is capable of providing stronger music recommendations if it were to draw music and liked musician data from Facebook.
Based on my encounters, I’ve found that Facebook has done a great job in assisting music platforms in providing music recommendations. Perhaps Ping’s social network isn’t as strong because it lacks this component. With that said, what components or capabilities would you like to see most in the music platforms you use?