Facebook's Impact on Music Services: 1.5 Billion Shares in Six Weeks
Facebook's Impact on Music Services: 1.5 Billion Shares in Six Weeks

Oversharing on Facebook is certainly nothing new, but the site's new music-sharing option has taken the practice to a new extreme, alarming more than a few people we know in the process.

Once a user adds Spotify or iHeartRadio to their timeline, listening to music equals sharing the activity with friends, automatically and in real time. It's no longer an action, but an afterthought -- a decision made when you sign up that now happens every time you hit the play button -- and has probably inadvertently outed more than one closet Justin Bieber fan.

This practice, of course, is no mistake -- it will certainly help Facebook to gain more insight into its 800-million-plus active users and sell that data to advertisers. But this version of music-sharing is one of many. For Facebook Music (not its official name, but we'll call it that for the sake of convenience) to become all it can be, it should improve the quality of its music-activity feed by taking cues from companies like Pandora and SoundTracking.

Days before the rollout of Facebook Music at f8, Pandora -- which was noticeably absent from the list of partners -- launched a new website with an increased emphasis on music sharing. In it, a new music-activity feed is subtly displayed. What it highlights, however, differs greatly from Facebook Music.

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Pandora lets users opt which friends they want to follow, and it only shows the stations they've tuned into and the songs they gave a "Thumbs Up" to during a listening session. On Facebook, however, listening activity appears in Ticker as it occurs. Then in the music app section, a breakdown of the artists, albums, and playlists that friends have listened to is displayed.

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Both feeds are similar in concept, but diverge in their contents. Arguably, though, Pandora has created a better product for casual listeners than Facebook, because it provides the highest yield of potentially great songs to discover while demanding the least investment of a user's time.

Listening doesn't equal liking. By only showing the songs a user gives a "Thumbs Up" to, Pandora reveals the songs friends liked enough to say so -- and want to hear again -- whereas Facebook forces us to wade through all of the music they listened to, whether or not they liked it.

That's the difference between Pandora and Facebook: one strives to save a user time -- by making it easy for them to discover music -- while the other seeks to take up more. Presumably, this is not a mistake, but a tactic. The goal for the first stage of Facebook Music appears to be to get as many users as possible to supply their music data. Once the feed is populated with listening activity and has been monetized by deeper ad-targeting, Facebook will likely make strides to improve their feed's quality, with the intent of getting users to spend even more time on the site.

But to do this, Facebook should highlight a broader array of listening activities. Currently, the feed shows, say, 16 Kiss songs that a friend played, which makes sense, because he's an avid Kiss fan. But which of the songs has he listened to the most and did he add any of them to his library? Facebook doesn't say and it may never tell, but context helps users sift through the noise and discover songs.

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Direct-sharing from services to Facebook doesn't show up in the feed either. While this type of user sharing is more out of self-expression -- more to make a statement about themselves, similar to a Facebook status update, than to recommend a song music to friends -- it should be brought into the feed, because it adds an element of a storytelling.

In this regard, Facebook Music has some catching up to do -- and SoundTracking, a mobile app, provides insight into how it might get ahead. In effect, what the app lets users do is share their musical moments with friends - what music they like to dance to, work out to, listen to while stuck in traffic, etc. SoundTracking enables users to tell these stories by linking a location, photo, and message to a song and then the app sends it out as a status update to Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

Facebook lets users do a similar thing when they check into a location -- i.e. tag the place, who you're with, and add a photo -- so it's possible they may let users tie songs to their status updates too. This sharing and storytelling is important and would add more color to Facebook's feed, but it has a drawback.

In the race to make music more social, Facebook and the services it counts as partners will learn this: A person's desire to share music will always be greater than their friend's willingness to receive it. When two friends share music, it's typically done in a thoughtful and intimate way. You find a song that you think they'll like and share it. Even if they don't like it, they still derive pleasure from knowing you thought of them.

But Facebook Music runs contrary to this dynamic. One friend decides to add a music service to timeline and share their music activity with their friends -- without considering whether they wish to be shared with. Once the updates appear, it's then up to the friends to embrace them or mark them as spam -- not the greatest user experience.

By taking the burden of sharing music off the plates of some users -- in enabling what Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg refers to as "frictionless" sharing -- it shifts the hassle of dealing with the updates to others and creates an entirely new tension.

A better feed may resolve this issue, and Facebook is likely working on this and many other ideas now. But if you've surrendered your listening data to Facebook -- by adding a music service to timeline -- then its venture into music is already a success. The company has your listening data and can sell it to advertisers. How much a user and their friends enjoy the listening activity displayed comes second.

"That's because on Facebook, we're not the customers," writes media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff on CNN. "We are the product."