Will Facebook Music Actually Work?

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Facebook’s music integration is finally here, and it’s unlike any sort of music sharing we’ve seen before as part of the Open Graph. Ostensibly you’ll be able to keep track of what your friends are listening to via Facebook’s new real-time Ticker, which Zuck promises will deliver updates in—his actual words—“real-time serendipity.”

When a friend is consuming media—like listening to a song on Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody—the activity itself shows up in the Ticker for you to see. From there, you can click on the title to listen to what your friend is listening to.

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As Reuters reports:

“…if users listen to music on Spotify or MOG via Facebook, it will show up in the just-launched mini news-feed that appears on the right of the opening page. If you make a new playlist, it will appear in the main newsfeed.

Your friends can then see what you are listening to in either of those feeds, and choose to listen as well.”

“We used to go to our friends’ houses to browse their record collections,” said Spotify’s Daniel Ek as he took the stage at Facebook’s f8 conference. “But we haven’t been able to do this online.”

He’s exactly right.

As I wrote back in June, turning music into a social experience on the web is incredibly challenging. Many have tried. Most have failed.

Apple’s “Ping” comes to mind as one of the more glaring failures in the Cupertino-based company’s recent product releases. Ping, a social network predicated on music sharing, didn’t as much combust into flames as it crawled into a quiet corner to be lost and forgotten.

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Turntable.fm works brilliantly in the social space because it’s equal parts clever and indulgent: Everyone considers their taste in music topnotch. We love the act of showing songs to others because it makes us feel good.

And it’s this reason why I have a hard time believing that integrating music with Facebook is actually going to work (and by “work” I mean actually used by average users).

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“I can see all the stuff [my friend] is listening to,” said Zuck, “and play it with whatever music player he used to play it.”

Gizmodo points out that the choice wording hereWhatever music player he used to play it, meaning limited cross-platform sharing—likely means that only one music service will end up standing tall above the others (hint: the winner starts with an “S” and ends with “potify”).

But that’s not what I have a problem with. When it comes to social music sharing, we’d much rather be benevolent than the one being turned onto something new. The exchange itself is the part about “social” that people genuinely enjoy.

Think about it: Whenever you play a new song for a friend in your car, you can’t help but feel great when they like it, too. It’s “sharing” in that specific sense that Turntable.fm has at its core.

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But clicking on a Ticker to find new tracks? It’s an anonymous act. Facebook’s algorithm connecting A (you) to B (them) is a taste-killer, like a white elephant gift to no one in particular.

I could be wrong. As a discovery stream, the new Facebook Ticker could very well be the new Hype Machine in that, yeah, people will find something to listen to. But it says something about the quality of each share; if everything is put out there, then what happens to the value of the gesture? That’s where I suspect Zuckerberg to have missed the mark. His idea of “sharing” is something different altogether.

The way you experience music, compared to other media, is an intensely personal one, shaped by taste and experience. When you show someone new music it’s the act that actually means something more than the song itself (think about how heartbreaking it is to show someone a song you’re really digging only to have them say it’s “just okay”).

On Facebook? The Open Graph here is just another one-way broadcast—a megaphone that paints the extension of your online persona.

And that’s beyond the obvious embarrassment factor of sharing something you’d rather not (like that not-so-secret Taylor Swift playlist that you’re only prompted for once). In a sense, it isn’t as much music sharing as it is leaving the door open for eavesdroppers. The problem is that you won’t really know who’s actually there listening.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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