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.