Plugged:
Social networks can be incredibly annoying applications for those of us old enough to not really care what are friends are up to when we're not with them. But their music discovery capabilities are virtually unparalleled. The ability for a fan to post a playlist on a blog that other members can then stream in full is a wonderfully powerful word-of-mouth viral phenomenon.

That's why this week's announcements -- that Universal Music Group licensed its music to Imeem and music-network MOG struck a deal for full song streaming via Rhapsody -- are both positive developments.

So what if Imeem is striking deals directly with labels and MOG is partnering with a third party. Frankly, I really don’t care (and I would bet users couldn’t care less either) how these guys get their music, as long as they get it. The how is up to the lawyers and biz dev folks to figure out.

Subscription music services like Rhapsody and its competitors should take a good long look at how these social networking sites work. Integrating that kind of peer-recommendation discovery aspect to a service like Rhapsody could very easily go a long way towards moving the ball forward for their struggling businesses. Rhapsody gets a bit too hung up on the power of its own internal curator processes and doesn't allow for enough users-based editorial outside of the occasional highly-rated playlist.

We're not fully there yet. Imeem has some user-interface and sound quality issues to work out, and MOG has to get past the pay-to-play hurdle with Rhapsody. But it is convergence like this that will help paint the future picture of the digital music market.

UnPlugged:
There's something to be said for consistency. Too bad Microsoft's not the one saying it.

The software giant's move to rebrand PlaysForSure into "Certified for Windows Vista" smacks of the kind of departmental pissing contests that so often muck up the execution at larger corporations. I get the idea -- Microsoft has a new operating system out there that has caused some confusion over whether applications running on the older Windows XP would work with the new Vista. It's a legitimate concern, because at first not all applications were. So a Certified for Windows Vista tag by itself makes sense.

But what if I'm one of those paranoid schmucks who doesn't want to upgrade to Vista because Windows XP is working just fine, thank you very much? Am I now supposed to just assume that a Certified for Windows Vista MP3 player is just supposed to work with my Rhapsody account running on my Windows XP machine?

The problem the PlaysForSure brand was supposed to address -- user confusion --is now further amplified with the new brand. My guess? Some genius in Microsoft corporate marketing decided to force a change in all outgoing "messaging" to refer to Vista from now on to "force" people into acknowledging there's a new system in town and they'd damn well better get used to it, consequences be damned.

And since OS software sales are what pretty much keep the lights on over in Redmond, the other departments had little ground to fight back. Not to mention the fact that PlaysForSure is pretty much an afterthought these days as attention is focused more on establishing the Zune effort (which as we all know isn't PlaysForSure capable).

I'm just waiting for the next fat-guy-and-annoying-punk commercial from Apple to come out mocking this one.