Pete Davison: Communal Listening

Posted on October 5, 2011 by

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I’ve seen a fair bit of negativity floating around surrounding Spotify’s new (optional) integration with Facebook — for those unfamiliar with the changes, Facebook now has a new Music dashboard which broadcasts the details of what you’re listening to from services such as Spotify in real time and provides links for other people to go and listen for themselves.

I’ve seen several people on several social networks decry this as some sort of gross invasion of privacy, but I can’t help feeling they’re missing the point in a number of different areas.

Firstly, the whole “Facebook privacy” concern thing is something of a moot point when you consider the point of the site — it’s a social network designed to let people connect with each other and share things, whether that’s a banal status update, what album they’re listening to or the fact they unlocked an achievement in The Binding of Isaac. What you share on there is, ultimately, up to you, and if you’re worried about your details being online then — there’s no simpler way to say this — don’t put them online. Facebook doesn’t belong to you. It’s never claimed to be a private network and, in many ways, locking yourself in a walled garden when using a social network defeats the object somewhat — if you just want to use it with close friends and family then you might as well just use email.

Taking the music thing specifically, Facebook integration is an excellent idea. Consider how we used to consume music in the pre-Internet days. We’d listen to the radio, watch Top of the Pops, talk with our friends. We might have friends over and listen to a particular band’s latest album together — we’d certainly talk about it the following day at school, in the office, wherever you happened to be spending most of your time. Buying a new album was an event — these days, music is just “there”, it’s just something to have on in the background and people don’t think twice about buying a track here, a track there without any thought of its context as part of a larger album. As part of this evolution, the whole real-world social aspect of music has been somewhat diminished.

Which is why embracing online socialisation is a good thing. Your personal musical tastes — key word personal — are your own individual thing, and there’s very little reason why you shouldn’t want to share them with fellow listeners. In fact, Spotify has always been set up to encourage the discovery and sharing of new tracks thanks to its Spotify URLs and ability to share on Facebook, Twitter and other services. The automatic broadcasting of what you’re listening to right now is simply an evolution and automation of the process. And, if you’re embarrassed about your musical tastes, then you can always turn the facility off.

Facebook is guilty of many things — pointless interface redesigns, a bizarre definition of what “Top News” is, fiddling around with settings behind your back without telling you and gradually building up a near-monopoly on the social Web — but one thing it has always done over the years is do exactly what it set out to do — provide an online social network with which you can communicate and share with your friends. The precise definition of what you can (and what is worth) sharing has changed and grown over the years — but why shouldn’t music be a key part of that? And why, if the infrastructure’s already there to do so, shouldn’t that process be automatic?

You’re very welcome to look at my Music page — here it is.

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Posted in: Pete Davison