In defence of Twitter Music
18th Apr 2013 | 16:16
Can't we all just get along?
The launch of Twitter Music has seen internet cynicism levels shoot to new heights.
Spotify plug-in We Are Hunted brought the latest sounds from hipsterville to a new audience of uninspired Spotify listeners, and now it's bending its algorithmic know-how to Twitter's will and hoping to help you discover your new favourite band in the process.
What's so wrong with that? I don't know, but plenty of people seem to be falling over themselves to find Twitter Music a laughable attempt at solving music discovery. Let's take this to an imaginary conversation:
Well, look Kate. My friends don't listen to the kind of music I like
This is the main complaint leveled at Twitter Music and I hear you - I do. I follow at least one person who likes David Guetta so I know pain, man. But the people you follow only has an effect on the Now Playing tab - you can just ignore that and focus on the Suggestions and Emerging tabs which are much better populated, in my short experience.
I'm not saying that's solved the problem because I do share musical tastes with plenty of people I follow and I'd like to plagiarise their tastes as much as possible, so the Now Playing tab is a missed opportunity. Only five songs are currently showing in Now Playing for me and one of them is by Emeli Sande. That's largely because it requires people to tweet using #nowplaying to show up, and that's the kind of behaviour that makes me unfollow people.
It keeps telling me I'll like Lenny Kravitz/The Killers/One Direction/Ke$ha
And do you?
Hey, One Direction are not that bad. Unfortunately, Twitter's being pretty secretive about how it's generating suggestions for you, other than by looking at what artists you follow and what "engagement" you've participated in.
Going by my own suggested songs, I imagine it puts a fair amount of stock in the artists you follow on Twitter. Mine includes a lot of dark, woozy guitar music which is largely because I only follow about four bands and one of them is The National. So I'm sorry, I don't know what you've done to give Twitter this warped view of your music tastes. Are you absolutely sure you're not a secret Ke$ha fan?
Yeah but I like Spotify Social/the radio/grubbing about in record shops/when new bands come to me in dreams
Why does it have to be either/or? You can use Twitter Music as well as kicking it as old school. If you prefer rocking up to tiny gigs in dive bars in the hope of discovering the next big thing then you don't have to stop doing that.
But at the very least, Twitter Music an elegant solution for those boring Thursday afternoons when you're all at musical sea and don't know what you feel like listening to - and that's all it claims to be. The suggested artists tab isn't all killer no filler, but it certainly had a good feel for at least one genre of music I like and threw up some artists I wasn't already familiar with - which is exactly what I want from it.
No one's claiming that Twitter Music is the world's greatest recommendation engine - Last.fm is roundly agreed to be more accurate and there's no replacing friends who know your music taste inside out. But solving the recommendation problem has long been the aim of music streaming services and this is just another attempt. Presumably Twitter Music will only improve with time.
Okay, but look at the trending tab! It's terrible
Yes, well, I agree with you there but plenty of people don't - that's how these artists get to be trending. And if you ever need to be down with the kids then hey, guys, here's a shortcut! That's the glass half full view, champ.
If you like Twitter Music so much, why don't you just marry it?
All right, calm down. I do like Twitter Music, but it's far from perfect. If you don't subscribe to Spotify or Rdio, you can only listen to 30 second snippets of songs through iTunes. And if you decide you like a song, there's no way to add it to your library or star it for later - you have to physically go into Spotify or Rdio to search for it and add it to a playlist that you've made yourself, which is very unwieldy.
There's no offline mode so it won't be so much of an on-the-go mobile app for many people as a play-through-your-speaker-system or just-use-the-web-app option. The app is only optimised for iPhone, not iPad, and there's no Android app at all yet.
If you decide you don't like a song, there's no way to feed that back so you don't get similar recommendations in the future.
A lot of the "emerging" music shared on Twitter comes from Soundcloud, which isn't integrated (although we suspect it will be in the near future), and YouTube, which isn't part of the app either. It's not clear if artists that don't have Twitter accounts are excluded from the service altogether. We've asked Twitter about all these things and received only stock replies that shed no extra light on the matters.
This closed-door approach doesn't really help anyone. If we knew how Twitter Music was forming its view of us, we could guide it so our recommendations were better and we'd all be happier.
So… what you're saying is…
What I'm saying is that this fairly laboured conversation device has run its course.
Just as no one realistically listened to the We Are Hunted Spotify app all day every day, I suspect that very few people are going to start listening to Twitter Music as default. I certainly won't be. But it's a nice-looking app that has the potential to be great after a few tweaks and a bit more clarity about how it generates your personal recommendations.
In the course of just one afternoon, it has reminded me about a band I used to really like and led me to four songs by artists that I wouldn't necessarily have discovered otherwise. And isn't that the point?