Sunday, April 21, 2013

Twitter Music: Hashtag why

Whenever anything attached to the internet announces with a flourish that it's adding socially-powered music discovery to the mix, it makes sense to mark the date in your diary. It'll help you be accurate when you say "this is where the rot set in".

Remember when MySpace suddenly decided that it was about music?

Remember Ping?

No, no, the Apple one.

I shan't even ask if you remember ComesWithMusic, as unless you were responsible for putting the write-off onto the balance sheet, you won't.

So it's with a look of concern that I hear Twitter announcing #Music. I have to ask: Twitter, are you alright?

It's not that it's a terrible idea. It's just... pointless. Tell us about the service, ABC News:

The Popular page shows you new music that's trending across Twitter while the Emerging tab shows "hidden talent found in tweets."
At a low level, this could be interesting - it might be a way of unpicking that mess of North-West based indie acts who seem to all be in each other's line-ups. But that's not how it's going to work, is it?

CDBaby are upbeat:
Twitter #Music is a new web and iPhone-based app that allows users to discover new music by emerging artists who are trending (or “surfacing”) on Twitter.
CDBaby doesn't see any irony in illustrating this with a screen grab which comprises of artists you'll certainly have heard of:

And a close-up of this undiscovered talent:

To be fair, there is an emerging music option, which does throw up some surprises, but in the format of a grid of 140 pictures of artists that are (apparently) getting a lot of Tweet attention. I suppose this could count as a music discovery tool, although quite how you're meant to sift the faces into discovering something within them isn't clear - "if you find this person's avatar attractive, you should listen to a clip of their music"?

Still, at the moment The Pastels and Purity Ring are both there, so it's not all bad.

But in effect, what you have is yet another chart. That's counting rather than social. What else is there?

Back to ABCNews:
The Suggested tab shows artists you might like based on the artists you follow on the service and who they follow.
I'm puzzled by this. How does Twitter define an "artist"? I follow quite a few gifted musicians who don't self-identify as musicians on their Twitter feed - some have day jobs that are the main focus of their account; some just assume you'll know they're the bassist in Billy's Boots; others play music of which they are deeply ashamed. Does Twitter just ignore this chunk of their base?

Likewise, does only the official Saturdays account count, while Frankie Out The Saturdays deep love for Atrax Morgue gets overlooked?

More significantly, many of the most heavily trafficed artist accounts are "looked after" by management or labels, which opens up an easy way for this feature to be gamed.

Even without gaming, the relying on 'who you follow, and who they follow' means there's not much hope this is going to reveal astonishing new acts to you. Genuinely, at the moment, Twitter is suggesting that I might want to check out some dude called David Bowie.

Thanks for your advice, Twitter.

What else do they have, ABC?
And finally the #NowPlaying tab shows songs your friends are listening to or tweeting about.
One of the things that nearly killed Twitter back when it started was people setting up their accounts to automatically tweet every song that came into their ears. People calmed down on doing that, so why build a whole page that attempts to recreate the experience?

There's another problem with this, though: people on Twitter aren't my friends.

I don't mean that I don't have friends who are on Twitter, nor, indeed, that I haven't made firm friends with people I have stumbled across on Twitter.

Some of the people on Twitter are my friends, then. But there's an important but.

Alongside them, there are people I follow who I don't care for much, or fundamentally disagree with, or would throw bread rolls at were I to see them in the street. (Only soft rolls, and I have terrible aim.)

I do this because Twitter is a great place to hear views you normally wouldn't be exposed to, and talk about things with people who don't share you worldview. It's that which makes Twitter valuable.

So while pulverising the recommendations of my friends on Twitter into some sort of 'try this' paste could be vaguely interesting (although couldn't I just see what they tweeted?), but my recommendations would also include the passions of Louise Mensch and Roger Helmer and someone who loves the Mayor Of London and Nadine Dorries and... oh, jesus, the UKIP councillor from my ward.

In other words, Twitter is going to be spinning its hard drives all day and all night to suggest that the only track I really need to listen to is I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher.

(That's better than Facebook, which seems convinced I might want to watch Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels - and that's based on an algorithm that starts with people I might have been drinking with.)

So: a system of dubious value and obscure point. I know Twitter needs to find a way to make money to keep going, but really: I'd rather give them a fiver a year than have them create something like this.


Frank said...

This is where the so-called "Web 2.0" begins to fall apart. The bits of Facebook & Twitter that people like just don't make any money, but these things don't run on thin-air. So they have to try and shoe-horn in this sort of terrible idea and hope that people believe it's an enhancement just because the marketing man tells them it is.

But it's really not - it's a terrible idea. How many people only like one genre of music? Art in general is subjective. There is no logic to why I like what I do, so they would never be able to write an algorithm that figured it out for me. And why would I want them to? I'd be willing to bet the majority of music lovers actually quite like having the freedom to choose what they like.

But the main reason that this is a terrible idea is because it's about income generation for Twitter. You'd have to be very trusting to think that certain artists aren't appearing in your recommendations because they have paid for the privelige. It's just another form of covert marketing. Web 2.0 will be remembered as "the days of the internet where all the good ideas slowly turned into companies getting rich by serving adverts to people who had no interest in what was being advertised"

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