Presence and activity in Spotify, and how it just became lonelier

I have been listening to music through Spotify pretty much constantly since the service became available in the US. I love it because of the fact that it provides the music lover’s dream of immediate and free (or cheap) access to a good share of the music that’s out there. With my Spotify account connected to my Facebook account, I have also grown accustomed to seeing the listening activity of my Facebook friends scroll by on the righthand side of the Spotify window throughout the day. This is not by any means the service’s main feature. But it was one that provided a friendly sort of awareness of what other people were listening to at any given moment, and perhaps also some indication of things like how they would musically cope with Mondays.

This social aspect of Spotify is also one of a number of small cases I am working with currently for my dissertation, in which I am looking at how small technologies and applications make presence and activity visible. This is why I have this screen shot (right) of my feed from a few months ago. Image

So I was somewhat startled when, after upgrading to the latest version of Spotify a few days ago, this feed disappeared and was replaced by the activity of the single account whose playlist I had subscribed to. As Spotify describes the changes:

Before these changes, Spotify Social gave you a People list. This would be populated with all your Facebook friends (if you have connected Spotify to your Facebook profile). You could also “Add” any Spotify user to your People list. This system has been rebooted. You can now “follow” people and artists on Spotify.

Of course it seems possible to replicate the earlier setup by subscribing to all of one’s Facebook friends, and there are clearly many advantages to explicitly following only certain people. But this is also a different dynamic, one in which using Spotify Social is an intentional activity more than a passive and general awareness. It will probably encourage me to subscribe to artists I like, close friends, and people with similar musical tastes. Explicitly following people one barely knows seems somewhat stalker-like and, once you think about it, kind of pointless. This is perhaps why the ‘featured’ accounts that are suggested for following are big-name entertainers and media entities.Image

As yet another social platform, Spotify provides a way for people to find and share content they like, and for content providers (even, apparently, generally non-musical ones like the GMA morning news and entertainment show) to market to fans or build their brands. It seems to be following the same general trajectory of other platforms like Twitter and Facebook in catering more to the latter as it matures.

This new configuration seems both more useful and more lonely. It is also an example of how code can create structures that determine how and under what conditions presence and activity are made visible.

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