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Twitter #Music Doesn't Get Why Friends Give Friends Music

Friend-to-friend: Valotte still sounds unnervingly like John Lennon singing a bunch of okay-ish songs.
Friend-to-friend: Valotte still sounds unnervingly like John Lennon singing a bunch of okay-ish songs.

Twitter #Music -- the music-discovery service from the people who brought you #SomaliDirectionersLoveZayn-style declarations of collectivist fandom love -- rolled out this week, and people are . . . not especially happy with it. A blunt summary of the problems with it was passed around among tech-liberal-arts-blog types over the weekend.

The Popular pane is useless to anyone over the age of 17. Emerging seems to simply be the inverse of Popular and is therefore equally hopeless. Swipe over to Suggested and we're finally getting somewhere, save for the fact that the secret sauce of what makes an artist "suggested" is completely opaque . . .

. . . which just about covers all the means of music discovery in the app. But the real problem with Twitter #Music and social-music apps more generally is simpler and not about design at all: Do you like your friends' taste in music to begin with? All your friends?

I love my friends. I trust that many of them have better taste than I do. But friendships, online or otherwise, are as much about being able to navigate the interests you don't have in common as they are sharing the things you do.

If my friends were to follow me on Spotify or share my iTunes library or, God forbid, take my Twitter #Music advice, they would be forced to confront just how much Weezer I listen to. I'm not sure a lot of my friendships could handle the weight of accepting that I love Raditude unironically.

For all that, though, most of the music I listen to now has come from a friend or an acquaintance's recommendation. What makes that different? In person, your friend is actually recommending a song to you on purpose. They know who you are, and what the song is, and they've decided that Raditude just might make your life a little better; more importantly, they know that not all their friends will be so enriched.

Trying to automate that isn't just impossible, it's antithetical to the point of recommending music in real life. Telling a friend you heard a song you know they'll love -- even when they don't end up loving it -- is basically just telling a friend you were thinking about them, him or her specifically, when they weren't around. When you give somebody a mixtape, it's never about the mixtape.

Passive sharing, whether it's Facebook's Spotify integration or Twitter's spammy #NowPlaying implementation, is the opposite of that. It's yelling to all your friends, all at once, "Hey! Think of me, because I'm right here! Listening to #FloRida perform #ClubCantHandleMe!!!"

 

That Tumblr pan goes on to complain about the way the app seems tilted toward name-brand artists, regardless of how interesting or not interesting they are:

Tellingly, you can't get to a musician's tweets from within the app to decide whether you want to follow them based on the content of their stream, you're just supposed to follow all of your favorite musicians and be in awe of their celebrity, I guess.

Twitter's official announcement confirms this reading; it ends with a bunch of bland hey-this-is-neat! tweets from Ryan Seacrest, Tommy Lee(!), and other people you aren't following because they tweet interesting things. I'm a big fan of this one:

Look: If Tommy Lee wants to recommend me some new music, I won't turn down his follow request. But I'm not sure it'll mean all that much to me. And that's Twitter #Music.


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