On the transformation of everyday culture in an era of liquid modernity

What MySpace should do!

In APIs, marketing, media ecology, music on April 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Basically, as MySpace are slowly moving towards more open APIs, they should be more ambitious and really start making use of the potentials for aggregation in their massive user database. Especially when it comes to music…
These open APIs make possible the relatively new concept (it only opened in March this year) of MySpace widgets which let users use and create applications that plug into the infrastructure of MySpace – something which Facebook has been letting users do for ages, although not in such an open way, since MySpace after all does this under the wing of the more generally applicable and more cross-platform-friendly OpenSocial, developed by Google.
But as it occurs, these types of tapping into the vast banks of ever-shifting user data that in fact constitute these social networks are very limited. At the moment, MySpace Apps are for example unable to be added to what they call “special profiles”, such as bands/artists.

Now, of course there might be a range of license-related, and possibly copyright-related issues involved in doing this, but my colleague Nick and I were talking about this recently, and realised how flabbergasted we both still are over the fact that MySpace doesn’t utilise the fantastic potentials it has in these band/artist profiles and their music streaming facility. Why not open up the streams of music and the correlating data as to who links to whom, who visits what profile and so forth? More interestingly, even some pretty simple network analysis would allow to map some emergent patterns of what types of music relates to what other, simply by the natural, self-emergent clustering that would be expected to happen in a data sphere populated by subcultures and fans.
This could all be possible, with minimal input of work and hardship, if MySpace could find a way of either opening up their data through making playlists, mp3 streams, content feeds and user data accessible in much more flexible ways (in plainspeak: leave that horrible proprietary, deliberately limited, crash-prone and spyware-vulnerable standalone Flash interface behind!) or alternatively building a new in-house service of their own where they create a portal that would allow users to directly access, browse, rate, search, make personal playlists and get automated recommendations off the plethora of band/artist content available out there, for free and with the intention to be discovered!

That there is an inherent closedness to these popular social networks is essentially what I argue in my recent response to Armin Medosch’s article in the Deptford.TV diaries II – Pirate Strategies reader:

Maybe the ‘datascapes’ of social networks and p2p-based technologies allow for an increase in traceability when it comes to user patterns of behaviour and habit (as Bruno Latour has recently argued). But what I find, as our everyday lives are increasingly permeated by these technologies, is that these traces are inherently restricted to the micro level. They are short-lived – like the IP address temporarily logged in an IRC or p2p exchange, or the textual exchange maintained only during the duration of a chat session – and they are local in that they are visible and/or overseeable only to the agents directly involved. The topology of MySpace or Facebook does not stretch itself out as a vast landscape from which I can oversee it in panopticon-like ways – it rather takes the shape of several interconnected but exclusively segmented rooms, only overseeable through local, myopic interaction.
The problem with distribution on the Internet is that it is granular, and dispersed in a way that is in fact antithetical to panopticon-like overview. Instead, it favours an accessibility that primarily operates through a search function.

The granular social networks of MySpace and Facebook are in effect worlds-in-their-own which surely help to showcase creativity yet do nothing to comprehensively promote noncommercial or alternative acts in any sensible way. These networks could be argued to form amorphous ‘datascapes’ instead of orchestrated ‘data spheres’: a lot of deterritorialization is going on but not much reterritorialization of any kind that would have primary benevolence to the artists and bands. MySpace makes use of the free cultural content and the aura of “cool” of these bands and artists, but it only makes orchestrated efforts to direct attention (that is, through actual investments like links, ads, banners etc.) to bands that are already commercially successful. As its current business model stands, it leaves the less commercial ones to their own devices. Behind its façade of being bazaar-like lies a very conservative cathedral mentality.

In other words, all that content that falls outside of what is marketable in a conventional, consumer-brand type way remains ephemeral, discrete, and muted – instead of aggregated, coherently and consistently promoted; something which would not only be a way of sourcing new talent and new music sales, but could also be done relatively easily by means of utilizing technical protocol and critical mass of users, involving low degrees of manual labour.
This would only happen though, if the developers start to harness the power of open APIs and openly accessible content, combined with an orchestrated, sensible way of showcasing all that music. And the best thing: while they are at it, they could make some serious profit.

Update, 9 May 2008:
MySpace introduces ‘Data Availability’ with partners Yahoo!, eBay, Photobucket, and Twitter
MySpace, and its launch partners, will be allowing users to dynamically share the content and data of their choosing including: (1) Publicly available basic profile information, (2) MySpace photos, (3) MySpaceTV videos, and (4) friend networks. Integration of the Data Availability project will roll to MySpace users and participating websites in the coming weeks.

Good! A step in the right direction, but we’re still to see these open architectures being applied to the vast music content that MySpace is increasingly being associated with…

Update, 6 September 2008:
One might think, that what stops MySpace from doing this kind of clever aggregation service is that most of the material on their users’ pages is extremely long tail material (we all know Chris Anderson‘s thesis by now). In his book, he criticizes MP3.com for only being “long tail-only”, so to speak: It didn’t have license agreements with the labels to offer mainstream fare or much popular commercial music at all. Therefore, there was no familiar point of entry for consumers, no known quantity from which further exploring could begin.
But with MySpace, there are loads of mainstream fare as well. I more and more come to suspect that the delay of this kind of service is mainly to do with the bureaucracy of old-school copyright: re-negotiation of contracts, EULAs, etc…

  1. […] that if MySpace is to Facebook what Yahoo is to Google, two things are quite revealing: First, that also MySpace are experimenting with open APIs to perhaps “unlock” some of their more rigid information structures. Second, that (in […]

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