Why has no one figured out how to “do” music social networking?
It’s an open question, but one I feel is legitimate to ask. To clarify, I don’t actually know why myself. I can offer thoughts in the hope to maybe generate a bit of discussion around what is ultimately my favourite topic of conversation, but I would be sitting with a few intern developers in Silicon Valley if I had all the answers!
At the outset, it’s important to acknowledge what’s out there already. Obviously there’s mySpace, and whilst it was certainly one of the first it died a death for a few years lost in a deluge of spam, an inability to define itself and a desire to become too many things to too many people. YouTube is another obvious example, but is it really a music social network? For sure it’s great for sharing all types of video content of which music is a part, but as anyone who has tried to follow a comments thread on a YouTube video will know, discussion/conversation is impossible.
There are younger pretenders to the throne - Ping!, mflow, we7 & LastFM spring to mind. Each doing their own thing but I don’t think any can claim to have really cracked it universally for various reasons particular to each platform. Spotify is good and their last major update integrated facebook and twitter into their platform, but to really take advantage of the best features (Spotify mobile, ad free music etc), you have to subscribe to Spotify premium. Paying to socially network doesn’t seem right. And there is still very little opportunity for fans to network with artists AND eachother. Surely that’s the basis of social networking?
So I ask the question again, why is it proving so hard to crack? Here are a few of my thoughts and ramblings on the why and the what:
1. Copyright & content
The biggie in my opinion. The music industry’s (legitimate) battle to preserve the artistic interests of their members and stem the flow of illegal (mainly in digital form) copies of music is at odds with the free sharing of information that is one of the pillars of social networking. The successful music social network site/platform will need to juxtapose the two.
Well maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong? The assumption is that a music social network has to be where we listen to music. Maybe all we want is a place to talk about it? Maybe a place where artists and fans get together and discuss music is all a music social network needs to be?
This follows the concept. Once that has been agreed, what’s the right way of doing it? Is there even a right way? In Ping! Apple have put the onus on the artists to share new content and have users discuss this content rather than share their own content, whereas on the opposite side mySpace is all about member generated and shared content.
And have music fans even decided what they want? Because at the moment, they seem happy to have both.
4. Social network overload
Yet another social network? Another group of friends/contacts to build up and a new community to develop? Another “thing” to check online? This was one of the complaints with Google Buzz; how it never integrated into email. As time goes on and our social networking behaviour becomes more mature and polarised towards what we already use it’s going to be difficult to make time for another social network. Even one that relates to what for some people is such an important aspect of their lives. Spotify’s integration and importing of friends from Facebook HAS to be the way forward on this…
Oh it’s that ugly idea again - how do we make money out of it? Ads? On a web platform it’s easy - stick a column of ads down the side of the page. Done. But splitting an album up with a few ad breaks when you’re caught in the magic of Led Zep, Pink Floyd or Dire Straits isn’t good. So do you then create the network, get the users in and run it at a loss whilst it defines itself and only then aggressively chase the $ (twitter)?
Maybe the press/newspaper industry offers a few pointers. The value of their industry has shrunk dramatically over the last few years as content is freely available on the web (Times & Murdoch group excepted). The public now consume news online and don’t need to buy a paper to read it. Industry insiders have had to accept their sector has reduced in value and as hard as it may be for the music industry to accept this, do they now have to?
So where to from here?
Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows. For now, we all carry on as we were. We join the new networks that start up in the hope the next one may be “the one”. We continue to feel unfulfilled by what’s on offer and a few of us continue to think about how to do it in the hope we may come up with the answer.
Does anyone else think about this? Join me here or say hello on twitter, and let’s talk about it. This could be therapy for frustrated music social networkers!