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

Differing attitudes towards Spotify

In file-sharing, GUIs, marketing, media ecology, music, p2p on February 19, 2009 at 10:04 am

The discourses around the newly-launched music streaming service Spotify show how Internet users are split into two rather different groupings in their stance towards commercial services like this one.
Just like the American sociologist Danah Boyd has observed a quite distinct split between Facebook and MySpace users respectively, one can observe a similar difference between those embracing and lauding Spotify and those who do not.spotify

The one observation that has said most about these circulating discourses is the following article from Wired magazine. Here, the comments actually says everything about the two rather disparate attitudes we see among Internet users towards Spotify.

First, we see those who do not have any problems with the condition that other users point to, that the article can be read as an all-out piece of Spotify spin.

Spotify totally rocks. On demand music at your fingertips and pehaps one of the fastest apps I’ve ever used.

Then we see these other users, who mean that the article is a purely propagandist and, in purely technical terms, rather misguided.

your article presents no technological wonders. I was streaming music from a Dell PDA to my stereo 4 years ago. The only thing new about this idea is using more recent online music services, and those appear and disappear every week.

Several commentators point to the author’s assumption that so-called netbooks would not be good for much else than as media players, and to his glossing over of the limitations of the Spotify service (as, for example, not being available in most large countries yet, and that the catalogue is very limited, indeed more so after having many of its titles revoked by the license holders).

Maybe one can make a qualified guess that the former – the Spotify-huggers – consist mostly of that cohort of people who are positive towards PR, corporate models, pure, minimalist, urban design, and consequently everything Apple.

Maybe one could also quess that the latter, those who continuously keep plugging technical details and wilder alternatives (Songza! SeeqPod! Imeem!) are leaning more towards a hacker ideology, where Spotify is far too proprietary, license-dependent, and not a true Web 2.0 application in that its users actually do not contribute to the content to any considerable extent.

It is a bit of a myth that Spotify would be alone in having a revolutionizing business model, to stream music from gigantic databases, letting the users listen but not download. This form of online radio-on-demand is established in a range of other forms: On the one hand, as services like Songza and SeeqPod, where the gigantic database consists of the material already circulating on the Net in the form of YouTube clips and mp3 files already hosted by thousands and thousands of users. On the other, as on-demand type streaming services like Pandora, whose database is, in practice, put put together by the record companies themselves, by implementing vast license deals.

The new thing with Spotify is that it does the latter in a refreshingly clean, aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly way (simply by incorporating Apple’s clever iTunes user interface), and that the ambition of the Spotify crew seems to be very high; they ultimately want to include virtually all of the breadth that (once again) iTunes is sporting.

The more crazy, entirely user-generated, and largely non-licensed services out there have not seen a fraction of the attention that Spotify has enjoyed. Especially so in Sweden, since the service is from here, and a pounding little nationalist heart seems to be placed deep within each tech and pop culture writer. But also since it is so easily accessible, simple to understand, aesthetically pleasing, and – perhaps most of all – has been charged with the kind of lifestyle “aura” which should not be overlooked (once more: think iTunes).

This, while services like Songza and SeeqPod are entirely wild; the search results are extensive and shift from day to day, since they are based on live, pan-Internet searches, among content uploaded and tagged by individual users. The user interfaces are not as self-evident, and the general knowledge about these services is much more esoteric, much more like the knowledge about more or less unregulated p2p services like SoulSeek, DC++ and eMule.

The range is also much, much better with these latter services, mainly because they – file-sharing sites as they are – do not write any license deals but instead focus directly on the good stuff. Sure, the technical quality (bitrate etc) might differ wildly, but that is balanced by the fact that if one version of a song is not entirely satisfactory in technical terms, it often re-appears anyway, further down the list of search results. Moreover, YouTube in particular have proved that quality of that kind is in fact secondary when it comes to this type of services.

If Spotify represents the safe, corporate-sanctioned re-territorialization of the Net, its competitors – the p2p networks on the opposite side of the spectrum – represent the wild, unregulated, de-territorializing counter-force. Maybe both are needed in the ecosystem of interactive media and increasingly richer media content we are seeing in front of us.

  1. I think we should not forget the fact that in general those who praise Spotify are the ones actually using the service. No matter how much theorizing we put into this, one can’t avoid seeing the obvious: those negative about Spotify are in a small, but sometimes quite loud, minority.

    And no matter what the antis say, this technology is refreshingly good. The Pirates have had the opportunity for several years to create something similar to Spotify (without being legal), but there haven’t been much going on. The Piratebay gang tried to start a Video Bay site, but due to technical failures it was rapidly gone. I think it’s important to note that sometimes good ideas and technology needs capital investments to succeed and Spotify is a prime example of this.

  2. Word!!!

  3. […] heavily congested by advertising, and one more advertisement-free, “premium” version, like Spotify? Commercialization of this kind has often been the case – both if we look at pure file-sharing […]

  4. […] decreasing the dynamic range of music), and the birth of new, Internet-based music communities and distribution platforms often bypassing traditional record industry modes of manufacturing, marketing and “plugging” […]

  5. […] a tacit admission that the value of a digital file should be compared with radio, as services like Spotify allow for users to pay a relatively modest fee in order to gain access to the material, while the […]

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