Are music startups killing online music fandom?

Turntable.fm dubstep room

It’s the end of the year and time for one of my favorite annual book purchases, the DeCapo Best Music Writing series. It’s a great time to catch up with all the music writing I have generally ignored for the past year. (Not on purpose!)  It’s also an excellent opportunity to go back in time and discover some of the releases that may have slipped under my radar in the past 10 or so months.

But I haven’t been ignoring music, it’s just that my attention has been more focused on music streaming platforms like Spotify and Rdio to get my music, or (very) occasionally poking my head into Turntable.fm. The popularity of music discovery startups has been one of the hotter tech stories of the past year , with Spotify’s celebrated arrival in the U.S. and controversial integration with Facebook, not to mention this summer’s love affair with Turntable.fm among music bloggers and social media folks.

But even with the popularity of these services, I can’t honestly say that I discovered more new music this year, or made more informed music buying choices because of them. Honestly, I think I discovered more new music when MySpace was the only game in town for burgeoning bands to share tunes. Thanks to Facebook, I know how little most of my social circle and I have in common when it comes to music preference. More broadly, I think the music startup explosion hasn’t really done much to promote new music discovery at all, but mostly encourages an echo chamber of musical tastes where friends and acquaintances share the same small pool of artists, bands, and songs with each other.

My other big problem with algorithmic-based music discovery platforms like Pandora is that musical taste (like food, and romance/dating) is often too complicated for an algorithm. Music communities are a huge arbiter of  musical tastes; the shared, collective sense of identity, emotion and memory that comes from music fandom is just as important as musical, style, production, and genre when determining listening preferences.

A couple of music startups do address this. Turntable.fm opens up that closed network of music sharing a bit more, with its real time, chat-room like element that allows for moments of serendipity, and more importantly, real time conversation and opinion sharing. One of the elements that stands out about Soundcloud’s approach (I SWEAR I don’t work for Soundcloud, even though I talk about it all the time) is the company’s use of community managers to act as music/sound curators while also encouraging in-person and local community building in the form of meetups.

And of course, music blogs remain a major player in online music fandom. I’ve written about my take on the future of music criticism before.  Music blogs like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan don’t appear to have the same level of  cultural authority  as tastemakers that they did several years ago but still remain well-read. And it seems odd in the age of social everything, that Pitchfork still doesn’t allow reader comments. But do blogs compare with the ability to sample, rate and share music almost instantly? Will music blogging and long-form writing be disrupted by music startups the way food/restaurant criticism was disrupted by Yelp?

I can’t see Rdio or Soundcloud ever replacing the experience of music fandom or reading writing music criticism for me personally, but I have seen it impact how I consume music on a daily basis. I’m curious to hear from other music junkies:  has Spotify/Pandora/Rdio/Soundcloud replaced music blogging or personal recs for you in finding new music?

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Be the Brand: Required Involvement in Social Media – Part 1

Based on our presentation at MIT: Media in Transition 7

There’s been much written about the professional risk of social media use for individuals and for businesses; in media reports as well as a recent National Labor Relations Board decision regarding employees use of Facebook to complain about a supervisor

But what happens when employees are encouraged (or required by the terms of employment) to publicly represent a company or brand through personal use of social media?

Several years ago, many companies were skittish about employee use of blogs and other social networking tools. More recently, however, some brands are increasingly creating “official” company social media profiles as well as establishing social media policies to encourage employees to unofficially represent a company via social media during the work day and off-hours, with the understanding that transparency and personal contact are widely seen as important to success in social media communication and marketing. This article discusses issues involving intellectual property, privacy, and the bounds of employment within personal and professional social media use.

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I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Thinking out loud: What it meant to be a “fan” on Facebook

Yesterday’s announcements from Facebook’s latest developer conference, F8. dropped news of major changes that have rattled online privacy advocates (and everyday users). I am among the rattled, and will get into the privacy implications of Facebook’s Open Graph in an upcoming post.

First though, I’d like to ruminate a bit on a more seemingly innocuous change implemented by Facebook recently, the move from “Become a fan” to “like” in the lexicon of Facebook fan pages.

If you didn’t already know, Facebook fan pages are in theory, Facebook profiles specifically for brands, organizations and public figures. If you have a personal Facebook profile and you’ve ever “become a fan” of something on Facebook, whether its Mr. Peanut, Jason Statham, or “Not being on fire” well, that’s a Fan Page.

The point of these pages, in theory, was to keep personal profiles and brand profiles separate. The interface is slightly different than personal Facebook profiles for both users and administrators, and for marketing professionals there are more bells and whistles on Fan pages. But until recently, the use of Fan Pages was never limited to brands and organizations. The aforementioned “Not being on fire” fan page and similar gag Fan pages (like Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Hat) have existed since fan pages were introduced.

The recent introduction of Community Pages for Facebook, seems to be a way to discourage the creation of gag pages by users and to insure that brand marketers control the use of Fan Pages exclusively.

Mashable cites an e-mail from Facebook to online advertisers, explaining the meaning of the change:

Facebook is alerting advertisers to the impending change by explaining that “Like” links offer “a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in … in fact, people click “Like” almost two times more than they click “Become a Fan” everyday.”

Little wonder in that; the word “fan” implies a level of engagement and commitment that the word “like” doesn’t quite cover. There’s a lot of things I “like” that I’m not necessarily a fan of. Of course more people would choose to click “like” more than “Become a Fan,” because being a fan tends to mean a little bit more to people.

Not to mention the fact that the “like” button was way more ubiquitous than “Become a Fan” button on Facebook. You could “like” a picture, a news item, someone’s stupid status update. “Liking” something on Facebook essentially implies a user vaguely acknowledges the existence of a piece of content, but doesn’t mean they’re passionate enough  about it to potentially opt-in to regular communications about it. (which is what Fan Pages are about, really)

But  that’s exactly what Facebook is counting on.  Here’s more from the previously mentioned memo:

Like’ offers a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in. These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages. We believe this will result in brands gaining more connections to pages since our research has shown that some users would be more comfortable with the term ‘Like’. The goal is to get the most user connections so that you can have ongoing conversations in the news feeds of as many users as possible.

I think of the times I randomly click on “like” for a piece of content I’ve scanned on Facebook. In some cases, “liking content” on Facebook is essentially saying “I’m too lazy to actually leave a comment on this, so here you go.” It’s the lowest level on engagement I can muster.

By making “like” and “Become a Fan” equivalent on Facebook,the more passive user behavior of “liking” something is now essentially an opt-in to a brand’s communication stream. Maybe you’re not into Coca-Cola enough to “Become a Fan” but surely you “like” it, right?

It’s pretty shrewd. Facebook is quite transparent that this change was made to increase user interaction with Fan Pages (now the exclusive domain of brands) but it is interesting to me that the implied exclusivity and discrimination of the term “fan” was seen as a liability for Facebook interaction. Traditional marketing values the fan above all others. In the case of Facebook, being a fan meant that you care just a bit too much.

Thinking Out Loud: Is Social Media the new Pink Collar Ghetto of Tech?

If you live in Chicago and work in online … anything really, you know that there are about 5 – 10 events going on each week geared toward technology and social media. Tweet-ups, networking functions, parties, demos, you name it.

I went to one of these events earlier last week, a social media focused event, and noticed that most of the attendees (about 75%) were female. Honestly, that wasn’t a huge surprise to me considering that’s the make-up of a lot of social media events I go to these days. Later that same week i went to another, more “traditional” tech-focused event (i.e. mostly developers and the like) and noticed it was the reverse – about 3/4 male.

Noticing the gender disparity of both events got me thinking about social media – most specifically social media and general online marketing -and its role in the hierarchy of  the tech industry  as a whole. I wonder, as the social media world becomes more and more female-driven (after all, social media power  users tend to be female) will it become “demoted” in the tech industry, seen as a “soft” profession with lower comparative salaries and less room for professional advancement/leadership? Has that already happened?

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Planet Money: NPR’s digital stepchild?

So I wasplanet-money-200x200 late to the game regarding the giant kerfuffle between NPR reporter Adam Davidson and Congressional Oversight Panel chairperson Elizabeth Warren. If you didn’t hear it, here it is, but to make a long story short, on the May 8th production of Planet Money, Davidson and Warren sparred heatedly about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It didn’t get personal, but it was pretty damn close.

Some PM listeners were offended by the aggressive tack that Davidson used to question his guest. It did get a bit FOX news at times and Davidson did cross the line a couple of times into condescension (would he have been so cavalier with a male guest?) Overall, it was a rare misstep from what is normally an informative and even-keeled production.

Alicia Shepherd, the NPR ombudsman, weighed in after an investigation of the production:

Planet Money is a relatively new venture for NPR, and the network is still experimenting with the format. “Planet Money has been an extraordinarily successful, popular project, with all it does,” said Uri Berliner, deputy national editor who edits Planet Money. “If you look at the way it has built an audience that responds and is engaged, it is pretty much without precedent at NPR.”

Here at TLF we are both fans of Planet Money, as a production, and as an effective model for traditional media outlets to engage listeners via social media projects. So it dismayed me (K.) to read the following:

Planet Money’s podcast does not have the same degree of radio production or intense editing and supervision as NPR’s regular shows.

In my months of listening to Planet Money, it did not occur to me that the podcast was not subject to the same level of editorial scrutiny as any other NPR broadcast. Honestly, I never thought of PM as anything less than an NPR show, albeit a show that was not being aired on terrestrial radio. Davidson was appropriately repentant, and  even admitted that he chose to edit the interview in a way that highlighted its most confrontational moments. But it did trouble me that Davidson, for whatever reason felt like Planet Money was a good place to check his journalistic integrity at the door. Because, you know, it’s only a podcast.

The admission of NPR’s ombudsman that the organization sees the podcast as a “lesser entity” of sorts is a bit disheartening for me as a listener, because I afforded the podcast producers the same level of trust, despite its digital roots.

In general, I do think NPR handled the situation well, by making the entire interview available for listeners, but I do feel like this is a bit of a blow for Planet Money‘s journalistic reputation and for the reputation of online-only news podcasts to be respected as real journalism, rather than just being a digital playground for amateurs. I keep making the argument that it’s about the content, not the medium, but if NPR doesn’t see Planet Money as “real NPR” then why should I?