The digital world had been waiting with baited breath for Facebook’s Thursday announcements. Of course it was always going to be more than just music, but music nonetheless plays a key role in Facebook’s social-pivot.
Almost regardless of what they actually launched Facebook’s announcement was always going to be big news because Facebook is such a major player in the online world. Facebook, along with Google, are – to use my sage former colleague David Card’s term – 21st Century Portals. The likes of AOL, MSN and Yahoo were transition technologies, that tried to translate the traditional media company model online. Google and Facebook take a different approach, they are portals in a purer sense of the word. They let you and others create the content, they provide instead the doorway to that content. Google is the jumping off point for the places on the web that you don’t know yet, Facebook is the starting point for the places and people you do know (see figure 1).
Music: the great consumer lock-in
Why is this relevant to Facebook’s music strategy? Because Facebook want to consolidate and extend their role in your digital life. They want to give you more reasons not to leave Facebook. Just as Apple and Amazon have each in their own ways used music as a consumer lock-in, so Facebook want to do the same.
The most significant music feature Facebook announced was the Music Timeline. This timeline is a visual history of all the music you listen to in any of the music services that a) have integrated with Facebook and b) you have opted to feed that music service into your timeline. Friends can listen to any of that music if they too use that service and have opted to have that service feed into their timeline. As you can see it is currently a slightly clunky implementation of a great concept. The next step Facebook need to take is a universal player.
By bringing together services like Spotify, Vevo and Turntable.FM and plugging them straight into the platform Facebook are transforming themselves into a content dashboard, an entertainment hub. They are joining the digital dots in an increasingly fragmented and confusing digital music marketplace (see figure 2).
Music: the low hanging fruit
Of course Facebook are doing a lot more than just bringing music into the dashboard, but music is the mass market bait. Music is the ubiquitous content that we all relate to and consume. It was what Apple used to get started on the iTunes journey, it is what Amazon used to get started on the e-commerce journey and it is part of what Facebook are using to get started on the next stage of their journey as a 21st Century Portal. And if you can build a framework or eco-system around that consumption then the lowest common denominator becomes a mass market consumer lock-in tool.
Will Facebook turn music services into ‘dumb feeds’?
The integration of the 15 services announced (full list at the end of this post) is the result of 6 months of hard development but it is just phase 1. Facebook is upping the ante as a platform for developers, so expect integration to go even deeper, even wider, really quickly. This is all great news for digital music services: Facebook is so ubiquitous that is like the best ad campaign you could ever have, all your target customers are right there.
But there is also a big risk for music services. As they become more and more integrated in Facebook (especially when the universal player comes) their brands will increasingly fade, subsumed into Facebook. One Twitterer yesterday posted: “what do you get when you combine Facebook with Spotify? Facebook”. That encapsulates the dynamic perfectly. Music services such as Spotify are certainly boosted by the endorsement of Facebook and are drawn like moths to a light bulb by the lure of Faceboook’s 800 million users, but just like the moths they may find their wings singed when they realise it isn’t the moon they’ve just reached. Just as telcos nowadays fear becoming ‘dumb pipes’, music services will need to be careful not to become ‘dumb feeds’ into Facebook’s Music Timeline.
Facebook: Aggregator? Curator? Platform? Or Gatekeeper?
Facebook wants to lock users in but it also wants to lock content partners in. It wants to ensure that Spotify, Vevo and the rest simply couldn’t imagine life without Facebook anymore, just in the way Google has embedded itself. With that power will come great responsibility and it is hoped Facebook will resist the temptation to become a gatekeeper.
Change, though never easy, is a big risk for Facebook
But it is not just the music services who face huge risk here, so does Facebook itself. Mashable talked about Facebook’s changes breathing life into a relationship with users that had gone stale. This makes sense, but I suspect it is more a case of the partners in the relationship beginning to want different things. I think most mass market Facebook users were perfectly happy with the neutral platform for communicating and sharing experiences with friends. Mass market Facebook users are the content wife, happy with how the relationship is going, ready to settle down further and have kids while Facebook is the husband with itchy feet wanting to travel the world and take up sky diving.
Online media (my blog included) are an echo chamber of a particular niche of the tech literate, that gives an distorted view of the world. Sure I and you my readers may find the new Facebook changes exciting. But I’d wager that at least 350 million of Facebook’s users are more likely to find them scary. Facebook is so mainstream that it has to tread carefully. (If you are in any doubt as to just how mainstream Facebook is Read It Write It Web write a story about Facebook’s universal log in that was bombarded with thousands of comments from irate Facebook users wanting to know where they could log into Facebook on the story because they clicked on the story link when Googling for ‘Facebook Log In’).
Execution is of course everything. Sophisticated doesn’t need to mean complicated, it can be elegantly simple – just look at Spotify and Apple. Facebook’s success will be in striking a balance in which they can grow momentum of use of new features but at the same time let the passive majority be as disengaged as they wish.
Facebook is already a 21st Century portal, a social layer on our web activity, these new features give Facebook the capabilities to take this to the next level, to a point where social networking may even be a secondary reason for many people using Facebook. Facebook as a social content hub first and a social network second. Now that really would be a social-pivot.
The music services integrated at launch: