Facebook Timeline for Artists (When Platforms Forget Their Responsibilities)

Regular readers will know I’m a big advocate of content platforms and ecosystems.  Indeed device based ecosystems such as iTunes, Kindle and xBox are the success stories of paid content. More recently these platforms have been complemented by a new wave of ecosystems by the likes of Facebook and Spotify, that depend upon software and user data for walls instead of hardware.  Both sets of ecosystems depend upon 3rd party developer and / publisher platforms for success.  A thriving platform is one which is defined as much by 3rd parties as it is the host company.  But just as a blossoming garden requires careful tending so does an ecosystem.  The host has a responsibility to ensure that developers and publishers have the support, processes and transparency necessary to instill the confidence necessary for them to invest their time and resources into the platform.  It is a responsibility that does not always come cheaply to the hosts and isn’t always respected to the full, as we have seen with the impact of Facebook’s Timeline on a number of artist app developers.

Artist Timelines are Throttling Artist Apps

Facebook’s Timeline feature is looking like a great innovation from the social networking behemoth and there are many examples of artists, music services and music publications using the feature to great effect.  (Take a look at Spotify’s Facebook Timeline for a super cool implementation).  However the way in which Timeline was implemented on artist pages has had a dramatic cooling effect on what was beginning to shape up to be a vibrant community of Facebook artist app developers.  Latest data from AppData.com and reported on Digital Music News shows that Band Page (formerly Root Music), Reverb Nation and FanRX (formerly BandRX) all saw a steady decline in usage in the lead in to the Timeline switchover date and then a ‘falling off a cliff’ drop on the date itself.  All three apps have remained stuck at their decimated levels.

The key reason for the collapse in user numbers is that as part of the Timeline feature Facebook prevented these apps being able to act as the landing page for artist profiles.  There is very well thought out reasoning for this move: Facebook remembers only too well the anarchic chaos of MySpace artist pages, indeed the pared-down minimalism of Facebook’s UI was an intentional antidote to MySpace messiness.  But none of this detracts from the fact that Facebook has failed to fulfil its duties as platform host.  It should have done more to accommodate the concerns of artist app developers and would be well advised to work with them now to improve their lot.  Although it would be stretching credulity to claim these apps were responsible for artists switching from MySpace to Facebook, they certainly played an important role in easing the transition for many.

Being a Platform Means Looking Out for the Small Guys Too

If Facebook is serious about becoming a platform for music, it needs to ensure that it doesn’t just lay out the red carpet for Swedish streaming services.  The value of Facebook as a music platform will come from the functionality, utility and experience delivered by 3rd party apps that help artists differentiate the way they engage with fans.  Apps such as Band Page, Reverb Nation, Fan RX and Bopler Games.  Ensuring that strategic priorities can be implemented without destroying the livelihoods of developers is a key responsibility of platform hosts.  Of course sometimes hosts patently ignore the responsibility and use app developers as free R&D – just think about the number of times Apple has killed off app companies by integrating their functionality directly into iOS.  But even Apple knows you can only do that so many times before you risk killing the proverbial golden goose.

I continue to maintain that Facebook’s platform strategy is subtly brilliant, and in the bigger scheme of things the artist app Timeline debacle is pretty small fry.  But if Facebook is to establish itself as a genuine music platform it must learn from the lessons Band Page et al are painfully teaching.

8 thoughts on “Facebook Timeline for Artists (When Platforms Forget Their Responsibilities)

  1. Pingback: Facebook Timeline for Artists (When Platforms Forget Their Responsibilities) « Official MXP4 Blog

  2. Facebook does not want to be a platform for the sharing of music by the people who make the music. They want to be a platform for the sharing of everything, and music happens to be something that most people in the world are passionate about sharing. Spotify is for listening and sharing what you listen to. Almost everyone can use this feature. Bandpage, fanrx, rn, etc are used by a very small amount of people relative to the amount of users on FB. You said it yourself. Letting anyone decide what their homepage is creates chaos. Facebook needs to focus on what will enable them to control the majority of the world. And what they’ve chosen to focus on is the sharing of what you like and love, not the sharing of what you are. I don’t think we’ll see the custom homepage feature for a long time.

  3. Nick – I don’t disagree with most of what you say. Nor was I suggesting that Facebook should move away from their strategy of a consistent user experience. Instead I think there is an opportunity here to help band apps become more integral to the user experience but firmly within the context of Facebook’s consistent user experience.

  4. Mark, check out tracks.by as well. It’s an up-and-coming musician facebook app, currently in invite only beta, but used by several major artists to launch tracks on facebook. We’re responding to the timeline cliff by really working the open graph channels. Where facebook shuts a door, they open a window. The 3 apps you mention above are either ignoring open graph altogether, or have a fairly superficial integration.

  5. Thanks for the BandPage mention, Mark! It’s true that the Facebook change has put pressure on us and other apps to innovate and change, since artists can no longer able use landing page functionality to drive traffic to their BandPage. We’ve done a lot of work over the past month to help artists through this transition, including integration into Facebook Open Graph and providing BandPage Direct Links that send fans to an artist’s BandPage. (More details on our blog)

    Our CEO, J Sider, wrote a more detailed response to the latest news/drop in traffic in the comments over at DigitalMusicNews (http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2012/120410timeline) if you’d like to check it out.

    The short and sweet version is that we’ve been able to adapt to Facebook changes in the past, and we’ll continue to do so in the future. We’re only in the beginning stages of the life of BandPage, and we’re very excited about our next few steps (as are our investors, board, employees, etc). There’s a lot of opportunity and exciting stuff that we can do to make the music experience better for musicians and fans.

    Thanks again for the mention, Mark 🙂
    -Sam Houston, Community Manager @ BandPage

  6. Thanks for the comment Sam. I’ve been a keen follower of Root Music from the start so I’m reasonably familiar with the various changes you guys have been making. The additional point which I didn’t get a chance to flesh out in my blog post was that it is unlikely that the TImeline switch over will be a death knell for services such as yours. Instead a spur for developing a new wave of solutions that better fit with the new look artist pages. The point I was making however is that Facebook should be doing more to help with this transition, not just hand holding but collaborating to identify new opportunities etc

  7. Pingback: And Then There Was the Facebook Play Button… | Facebook Timeline Change For Ever

  8. Pingback: And Then There Was the Facebook Play Button…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s