Facebook Music: What it is, What it isn't, and What it Means
Facebook Music: What it is, What it isn't, and What it Means

"It's not what you're like; but what you like," said John Cusack's character in "High Fidelity."

Facebook took that axiom to heart, rolling out massive changes to the popular social networking platform that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he hopes will "transform industries."

With the unveiling of what has been dubbed Facebook Music, one of those potential industries is the music business, which has seen more transformations in the last 10 years than it probably wanted to see. But this time, it could be a transformation for the better.

What It Is:
As is usual with these kinds of highly anticipated events, some of what you read in advance came to pass, while some didn't. Basically, Facebook Music is not a service. It's a feature that's shared among different kinds of content and media. Any digital music service (or really any other content service) can use Facebook's new API to integrate themselves into the platform. Not only will that allow subscribers to authenticate themselves using their Facebook login, it also gives them an option to add any song, album, radio channel or artist that they subsequently listen to on that service to appear on Facebook for others to see. And, it allows their friends to view a report of their top songs, artists, albums and channels based on their listening history. All users need to do is select the "Add to Timeline" button in the service one, and all activity will be seamlessly recorded from that point on.


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What's Timeline? That's basically Facebook's new Wall. It's a slick new way for users to add details of anything they're doing at any given time, archived years back. Part of that timeline includes a Ticker, which is a moment-by-moment update of everything that your friends are doing. It's in this ticker that you'll see updates in real time when someone begins playing a new song, etc.

Not only does it show the content being played, but also the service on which it is being played. Facebook gave Spotify top billing during Zuckerberg's keynote-including a demo opportunity for founder/CEO Daniel Ek, in what was probably the new service's biggest exposure since launching in the U.S. this summer-but several other services are involved as well. On the music service front, they include MOG, Rhapsody, Rdio, Deezer, Songza, iHeartRadio, Slacker, SoundCloud, MixCloud, Jelli and of course Spotify. Vevo is the only music video streaming service involved. And on the ticketing front, Ticketmaster, Ticketfly, Eventbrite and ScoreBig are integrated, so Facebook users can see when their friends buy tickets to live events. More are sure to be announced in the coming days, weeks and months.

What It Isn't
Notably missing from the unveiling is the ability for two Facebook friends subscribing to different music services to automatically share their music, a feature that was expected in the days leading up to the event. So for instance, if one Facebook users posts a playlist he's listening to on Spotify, that user's friends on Facebook can simply select the link in his update to launch Spotify and listen to that same playlist. But if one is on Spotify and another on Rhapsody, clicking the link won't open Rhapsody and translate that playlist for the different service.

That omission is mitigated to an extent by the fact that Facebook users can quickly add the service their friends are using to stream music by simply hovering over the service link and opting to download the app, be it Spotify, Rhapsody, or whatever. This is why companies like MOG and Rdio have been scrambling to introduce free music tiers… so that friends of subscribers can discover their respective services and try them out rather seamlessly.

It's also worth noting that none of the music streaming actually takes place inside of Facebook. All streaming requires the launch of one music service or another. And while Spotify certainly is the service Facebook is backing, at least in the keynote, Spotify is not the de-facto music service for Facebook, as had been previously reported.

What It Means
Zuckerberg made it clear what he hopes Facebook changes mean, not only to the music industry, but also the film, news and other industries that stand to benefit.

"We're going to expand the industries and products that are inherently social to be even more so," he said during his keynote, "and rethink industries at the same time."

The most immediate likely impact will be on the streaming music market. Much will be written about how the lack of "content resolution"-the ability to translate a playlist on one service for that of another-is a major disappointment. While it would have been nice, it's really not that big a deal in the long run simply because there aren't that many subscribers using these services today.

The fact is, there still needs to be far more subscribers of any one service for the fragmentation between them to be a real problem. The reality is that within any one group of friends, only maybe one or two actually uses a subscription music service. The rest still buy music from iTunes. So this can be seen as a great first step to get users on board actually paying for all you can eat services first.

For artists with Facebook profiles, there's really no need to join Apple's Ping anymore (not that there was a pressing need in the first place). Combined with the new ability to "subscribe" to a user's feed without requiring them to become friends means artists can let hordes of fans view their day-to-day photos, updates, and songs they're listening to at any given time. Add in the ticketing options, and you have something that even Myspace at in its heyday never was able to offer.

"It brings awareness of music and connecting with friends to the platform," said RootMusic founder and CEO J Sider from the floor of the event. "So more and more fans and musicians will point their attention to Facebook as a place you should be connecting artist to their fans.

And for the music industry at large, this is a megaphone. The opportunities for music discovery with Facebook offering automatic updates on each song users are playing is absolutely massive, as even Zuckerberg pointed out onstage.

"It's amazing how much music you can discover through your friends," he said. "In this way, listening can spread really quickly through the graph."

Already, influencers on Twitter are wondering whether music recommendation engines will even be necessary any longer, now that discovery has been built so solidly into Facebook. That's probably a stretch, as there's still a need for recommendations based on personal tastes and usage (after all, not all friends agree on music).

But the idea that music is now a major vein of conversation on the largest social platform in the world-and 100% legal, at that-is certainly an exciting development for an industry desperate for a positive spotlight for a change.