First, some perspective: Even after yesterday’s big Facebook F8 hullabaloo, people will still listen to and discover music without Facebook, as hard as that might be to believe right now, given all the attention paid to the social network’s shift into media sharing, which suddenly made Twitter look like the stripped-down communications protocol it has always been.
But it would be folly to ignore the effects of Facebook’s shift into “verbs” in addition to “nouns,” as Mark “Sugar Mountain” Zuckerberg cleverly put it yesterday — by which he meant that Facebook can now track and share what you do, in addition to the things you like.
Yes, Facebook will facilitate legal music sharing — something the industry has been trying to do ever since Napster electrified (some would say “electrocuted”) the music business over ten years ago.
But as important as it is, Facebook’s music initiative is missing five key ingredients, all of which are within its grasp:
We’re not saying it would be easy, but if Facebook really wants to help people listen to each other’s music, it should let them do so using whatever music service they want. This morning, listening to friends’ music through my Facebook Ticker and sharing my music through it, I’ve already used Spotify, Rdio, Songza, and MOG — and it’s not even 10am yet.
True, Facebook has started down the road of universally translating between music services, so that I can hear your songs even if you use Rhapsody and I use MOG — but so far, it has done so by tilting the playing field favorably (some would say unfairly) towards Spotify. Note the screenshot above, in which a shared Rdio song includes a link to “play in Spotify.”
If Facebook really wants to offer “frictionless” music sharing, to borrow Zuck’s oft-repeated phrase, it will let people listen to shared stuff using whatever they want, rather than the same service used by the sharer.
A Facebook employee deleted a tweet about it, but Evolver.fm has confirmed that at least two streaming radio services plan to implement it. Slacker, specifically, says it has been working with Facebook to do so for months. So why didn’t Facebook music launch with the ability to join other listeners on a station in real-time, so that people can chat about what they’re hearing a la Turntable.fm? This will probably be the neatest thing about Facebook music, and even after yesterday’s presentation, it’s 100-percent vaporware.
3. Music Tab in the Ticker
Facebook is now more cluttered than ever, which, according to hilarious Wired.com pundit Lore Sjöberg, is because Facebook finds it beneficial to keep its users dissatisfied while offering them a forum where they can express that dissatisfaction — just like the Democratic Party.
Zuckerberg kept using the word “lightweight” to describe the new Ticker on the right side of Facebook, but accusations of clutter are not without merit. So why not add a music filter? As a music fan, I’m mainly interested in what people are listening to, Ticker-wise. I don’t care about who my friends have friended. The Facebook Ticker should offer a way to look only at music activity, and there’s no good reason for it not to.
As Matt Rosoff of Business Insider observed, the white elephant not in the room at F8 yesterday was Apple, iTunes, and iCloud. Apple would need to swallow some pride in order to join Facebook’s music ecosystem, but maybe it should.
Some argue that Apple only ever sold music in order to sell more iPods and iPhones anyway. Now that it can sell apps for other music services, and run those on its devices, perhaps Apple is no longer concerned about selling music. From a user perspective, it would be nice if iTunes activity were included in Facebook’s music activities. Last.fm scrobbles from iTunes, so why can’t Facebook? Maybe this one will happen when Apple takes the wraps off of iCloud later this year.
5. Independent Developers
For this one, Facebook’s off the hook for the most part — it just needs to stay out of the way. One of the neatest things about Rdio and now Spotify is that they let independent app developers build third-party players atop their catalogs. If I subscribe to either service, I can use any music app that taps into it, offering a potentially huge range of interfaces, platforms, designs, features, etc. to choose from — more than Rdio or Spotify could ever develop on their own.
If someone wants to build a music player that lets people choose what to play by rolling virtual dice, slaying a dragon, wandering through a 3D library, or whatever, on any platform, I can use that interface to play Rdio’s or Spotify’s music. This is already starting to happen — and unless Facebook somehow gets in the way, all of the music played in these third-party apps should appear on Facebook. In fact, Facebook could even encourage this sort of thing.
So Mark, once that hangover subsides…. What are you waiting for?