Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: myspace

Facebook Artist Pages Still Have A Long Way To Go

When Facebook first launched music pages back in November 2007, I predicted a shift away from MySpace. A couple months later, I created a MySpace profile for myself, ending a self-imposed boycott. It was stupid of me to ignore the community (MySpace is simply where musicians are, unfortunately), but beyond that, Facebook Musician Pages are still really awkward.

Music Player

It’s obvious that Facebook wasn’t designed with musicians in mind just by taking a simple glance at the music player (take my page for example). I’m a fan of simple, but there’s a difference between elegant and lacking. There isn’t even a way for artists to order the tracks in the playlist, nevermind enable downloads or include lyrics or album art. It was just a few weeks ago that Facebook began providing stats on audio (and video) plays in the Page Manager application, but you can’t even tell which songs people have been listening to. I’m the last person to obsess over meaningless profile stats on MySpace, but a simple play count is fundamental feedback.

Relationship with Fans

On Facebook, you don’t friend a musician, you become their fan. Now, I wouldn’t want everyone who’s interested in my music to become my Facebook friend (that’s one of the annoying things about MySpace), but the alternative Facebook has chosen is very impersonal. You don’t message fans, like you would members of a Facebook group, but you send an “update.” You can’t reply to an update. It’s faceless, one-way. If someone wants to get in touch with you, they can post to your wall or discussion board and hope that you notice.

The relationship of “fan” versus “friend” is technically more accurate, but it gets in the way of forming a real relationship. The artist is a distant and mysterious figure, hiding behind some “wall” (har). Facebook was right to rethink MySpace’s approach, but they need to do much better.

Part of the problem is they’re using the same tool for corporations as they are for artists. It’s okay if a giant brand is faceless because it has a different type of face. Even if Facebook would just add some privacy settings, that could go a long way to allowing different uses, such as letting artists connect to their fans if they want to (e.g. “can fans send you a message in reply to an update?”, “should page admins be visible to fans?”).

Relationship with Other Artists

How about “none.” MySpace wins hands down here. The only thing remotely close that Facebook offers is the ability to “favourite” another artist page. If you want to find or communicate with other artists, you need to do this with your personal Facebook account. Or on MySpace.

Events

This has been poorly thought out. There is no simple way to list upcoming shows! An artist must create a separate “Facebook Event” entity for every single show — that means guest list, photo, address, etc. Again, MySpace’s approach is riddled with problems, but at least you can have a simple upcoming events listing on your profile page without making a big deal of every event.

Plus, there are lots of problems with Facebook events in general that are magnified here. What if multiple artists are playing a show together? Do they each create separate events? How else can an event be listed on each of their pages? What about mutual fans — do they get multiple invites?

I’ve been experimenting with a “shell” event solution lately, creating an event for every show but (a) disabling extra content (posted items, photos, videos), (b) hiding the guest list (so I don’t have to send or monitor invites all the time) and (c) providing the basic details but linking to other Facebook events when relevant (here’s a recent example). I play a lot of shows with other songwriters, so when they setup their own Facebook events, I’ll create one of these “shell” events on my page that carries the core details but links back to their original event, and I’ll use their event to invite my friends.

Third-Party Apps

A lot of these shortcomings offer good opportunities for third-party applications, but it’s not that simple. As far as I know (and I’d be happy to be wrong), third-party applications don’t have access to Facebook Insights (the stats Facebook shows you about your page, which are always about five days behind). Sure, you could use/create another audio player or calendar, but then that application has to maintain its own stats, and all of the sudden you’re looking in three different places every time you want to check on your Facebook page (nevermind MySpace, YouTube or your own website…). For example, I’ve chosen to use a Flickr app instead of uploading my photos to Facebook, and as far as Facebook is concerned, no one has ever looked at a photo on my page. Third-party apps are second-tier when it comes to stats.

I still think Facebook Musician Pages are an important tool for artists and I have hope that the improvements will keep coming (if I wrote this two weeks ago, I’d be railing on them for the lack of any stats on audio plays). But, despite the clumsy and mostly incompetent design behind a MySpace profile, they’ve got the core things right about music. The fact that music is an “oh yeah, that too” on Facebook shows — one size doesn’t fit all.

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Cleaning up HTML entities in MySpace blog RSS feeds (or how to eliminate squidginess)

I recently setup a Facebook musician page for Robyn Dell’Unto. We ran into one really annoying problem importing her blog posts from her MySpace blog. As Robyn described it,

my only issue with the notes is that they go all squidgy when there’s punctuation in the title. which, frankly, embarrasses me! I’m really embarrassed by squidgy punctuation!

By “squidgy,” she meant that the HTML entities were not displaying properly. Titles from imported posts displayed like this: “I’m doing stuff I swear.”

Ugh.

First, I thought it was a problem with Facebook Notes, but upon inspecting the MySpace RSS feed, I found that (aside from being woefully invalid — iTunes?) MySpace seems to have no freaking clue how to handle HTML entities properly. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of MySpace. Why would I expect a valid feed? *sigh*

There were two really annoying things that MySpace was doing (aside from the whole iTunes thing):

  1. They double encode entities. Sure, it’s necessary that they turn each & into & in links, but not in text that they’ve already encoded!! This leads to the ’ “squidgies” in the titles
  2. There are a bunch of unicode characters that they don’t encode. For all the double encoding, other characters which ought to be encoded are missed entirely.

On top of that, I discovered that Facebook won’t display any of the unicode characters (I think?) even when they are represented by the proper HTML entities. They just display the entity code, causing the ’ “squidgies.”

Now, I’m no expert on character encoding and HTML entities, but I can do better than that. I’ve hacked together some PHP code to clean up the feed a bit before importing to Facebook, which has solved all of our problems so far. I realize I’m only addressing a limited subset of unicode character entities, but it’s working for our purposes for now.

View the code.

It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a definite improvement and it works so far. Hopefully this can be of assistance to someone else. Suggestions welcome!

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Yet another missed chance to be saved from MySpace

Why is it that I keep finding these things after it’s too late?

AmIOnMySpace?

Ah well, it’s not so bad after all.

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What I should have done instead of creating a MySpace profile

If only I had thought of this on Monday

Join Myspace

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Andrew Dubber and Robyn Dell’Unto convince me to get a MySpace profile

I caved. Recently stumbled upon Andrew Dubber’s (excellent) blog. An expert on new music strategies, he admits that his “dislike for [MySpace] borders on the pathological.” Me too!

I begrudgingly agree with Andrew that MySpace is still relevant. Facebook Musician Pages are much better, but the social aspect is not the same. Facebook allows you to connect with other fans, but it doesn’t allow you to connect with other artists in the same way. Musicians are still on MySpace… unfortunately.

Don’t expect much on the profile though. I guess I should upload my music, but I’m going to keep it pretty bare. I’d prefer to interact with people on other platforms, but I’ve decided to at least maintain a personal presence on MySpace (as opposed to using my band’s profile for things).

Also, MySpace acts as a standard gateway of sorts. If I see a list of bands for an upcoming show, I’m more inclined to visit their MySpace profiles quickly than to visit their personal websites. I don’t know if they’ll have music easily accessible on their websites, if they’re websites will just link back to their MySpace profiles… For all of its loathable inconsistency, MySpace still does provide a basic consistent interface and I do admit to looking at MySpace profiles before bothering to look at websites.

Plus, Robyn wants to add me to her Top Friends. How can I resist?

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Billy Bragg: when songwriters develop a sense of entitlement

In a Saturday op-ed in the NY Times (via Techdirt), Billy Bragg argues that musicians deserve royalties for the use of their music on the web. Bebo, a social networking site which rivals Facebook and MySpace in popularity in the UK, was recently sold to AOL for $850 million. Bragg thinks musicians deserve a cut.

Problem is, that doesn’t make any sense. At all.

The main and obvious problem is that, with websites like Bebo and MySpace and Facebook, artists upload their own music to the website. If they don’t like the terms, they don’t need to participate.

These websites don’t pay musicians, but they offer them a platform. Bebo offers its services at no cost and, in exchange, musicians allow their music to be used at no cost. Obviously, many musicians are grateful for the free promotion these websites offer (e.g. no hosting or bandwidth costs). But, there are alternatives. Last.fm, for example, is now paying royalties to artists, though they function more like a radio station than a MySpace.

What bugs me about Bragg’s comments though is his sense of entitlement. It comes through in the article, and it comes through in the discussion about it.

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?

For one, no artist needs to upload their songs to such a website if they don’t like the terms and conditions. Second, while I don’t have a problem with a website paying royalties to artists (e.g. Last.fm), why is it necessary? Artists have a choice to use these sites or not. MySpace would not exist if it had to pay royalties to anyone who uploaded their music; it would be a fundamentally different thing, more like a radio station than a platform for artists. Bebo and MySpace provide a different service that radio stations do because you don’t need to be selected to be heard. I mean, they’re functioning more like a web hosting service than a radio station. But the point is, artists have the option of seeking royalties through services like Last.fm or seeking exposure through Bebo (or both), why force one of these options out of existence? Clearly, artists and fans alike have found such services to be useful.

More importantly, I think it would be entirely impractical to try and apply the royalty systems that worked for radio to the Internet. The fundamental difference is that it’s pretty easy to identify radio broadcasters, but the distributed nature of the Internet would make it impossible to police such a thing. Plus, there are so many different ways in which content could be distributed. If every webcast were subject to the same type of terms and conditions that large commercial radio stations are, Internet radio would be stiffled. What about blogs? What about derivative uses of a song? Even if there were technical measures to attempt to police the Internet, I would argue that enforcing that sort of thing would do more harm than good. The Internet is fundamentally different because anyone can be a broadcaster, whereas broadcasting terrestrial radio is more analogous to owning a printing press.

Billy Bragg seems to embody a sense of entitlement in the music business that just gets on my nerves. We would never apply his thinking to other businesses.

If I am guilty of thinking in an old way, then its because I believe that businesses which use my music to generate revenue for themselves should pay me a royalty for doing so. [from a comment on Joseph Weisenthal’s blog post]

This sounds like my discussion with John about whether or not artists deserve money from the sale of digital audio players. It’s really easy to come up with examples why this idea is wrong.

Does Rogers’ owe Google money because Google’s services make Rogers’ ISP offering more valuable? Does Google owe Rogers money because it generates ad revenue from users that connect through Rogers? Do home decor businesses owe construction companies for building the houses they decorate? Does Slash owe Gibson for making money by playing a Les Paul guitar? Do I owe Lenovo when I make money developing websites using my Thinkpad? Do students owe their teachers when they put into practice ideas they learned in school to make a living?

It’s easy to see how this gets ridiculous very quickly. Why do we tolerate such thinking for music?

Furthermore, Billy Bragg himself admits in the comments what the real value of radio airplay was for him, even though he doesn’t seem to realize it.

Sure I started out doing shows and then made a record. But until that record was on the radio, I couldn’t get gigs outside of my area. The record legitimised me in a way that passing out cassette tapes never did. Promoters and media around the UK started taking me seriously and, more importantly, people in the US heard me and invited me over to tour.

The promotional value is the real value in such broadcasting. That’s what Bebo is offering artists in exchange for uploading their music.

Is the contradiction glaringly obvious enough yet? Businesses that make money from Billy’s music owe him money, yet when Billy makes money from other people’s businesses (such as the radio stations that promote him), they… also owe him money. When asked this question directly, he confirms his contradictory thinking.

Should I pay Bebo for the privilege of being on their site? I don’t think so. I never had to pay record shops – remember them? – for the privilege of being in their racks. They stocked my record so people would come into their shop. Same reason why Bebo hosts music.

One second Bebo is like a radio station, now they’re like a record shop? Do record shops pay royalties to artists? Why is it that Bebo apparently owes musicians when it profits from their music, but musicians apparently don’t owe Bebo when they profit from the site?

It’s child’s play to point out the holes in his article and his comments. I commend him for starting the debate and discussion, and for participating in it, but his ideas seem to me representative the industry’s denial over the death of their traditional business models.

Personally, I’ve decided to forgo the royalty thing entirely for my music. The sooner this sense of entitlement dies out, the better…

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Goodbye MySpace Profiles, Hello Facebook Pages

I’ve ranted before about why I don’t use MySpace, but I admit there have been times when I’ve been tempted. You can get much better technical services through hosting your music elsewhere, but the community exists on MySpace. There’s no social networking aspect to hosting your own website.

But the tides have turned! Facebook rolled out it’s new Facebooks Ads feature earlier this week, geared towards giving businesses access to advertising through the social graph. One of the key features is the new Facebook Pages which allows business to create and maintain profiles. These profiles have their own mini-feeds, are customized for various types of businesses, users can express their love/affiliation with a company or product through membership, and the business can then update those users on new developments. Check out the Facebook blog for a great overview of the new features (and reassurances about what won’t be changing, for any paranoid users or skeptics).

I discovered earlier today that Facebook Pages includes artist pages (musicians, as well as other artists, like comedians or actors)! I’m on the State Radio mailing list, and they alerted me to their new page.

Facebook has done it again! Their musician pages are better than Facebook groups and MySpace profiles combined! It appears that you can upload an unlimited amount of videos, photos and music to a page. Facebook users can click “Add to My Music” to become a fan and then receive updates, each page has it’s own mini-feed, businesses (ie. musicians) can host their own events… the list goes on!

It does the musician profile better than MySpace, and makes groups feel woefully inadequate. Yet it’s nothing terribly complex. That’s what continues to amaze me about Facebook… everything is so simple and well implemented, it just makes so much sense. But no one has ever done it so well before. There’s no single feature which is all that new in a Facebook musician’s page, but the integration of all these features with Facebook’s social graph, tidy interface, and business applications (e.g. Facebook Insights – artists receive information about their pages, such as page views, through the Facebook Page Manager application) customized and catered to musicians, amongst other artists, makes this by far the best online profile I’ve ever set up as a musician. And I’ve set up quite a few! (Take a look at my new page!)

I have no more hesitations about avoiding MySpace. The community is moving to Facebook anyways, if it isn’t already there. Facebook Pages allow me to benefit from the social networking aspects of maintaining an online profile without all the nuisances associated with MySpace.

It isn’t even a fair competition anymore. Facebook is light years ahead of everyone else.

Good riddance to MySpace!

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MySpace friend requests from bands

I don’t have a personal MySpace account, but I maintain one for my band. We get so many friend requests from other bands that I’ve developed about a thirty second routine to deal with each request.

I’m sorry, but if I can’t download your music or you’re not from around here, you’re just simply not going to get any of my time. Unless, maybe, a friend whose musical taste I trust and rely on has recommended that I listen to your music, I won’t spent more than 30 seconds on your profile.

I just don’t have time. I’m sure you make nice music. But music isn’t something that you evaluate quickly, at least not in any meaningful way. It’s something that’s supposed to grow on you. It’s something you want to try and form a connection with. I don’t owe you anything and I don’t have time to try and form a connection with everyone who makes nice music. And I won’t form a connection with all good musicians either.

If you want me to form a connection to your music, why don’t you let me listen to it? If there was at least one track that was downloadable and I like your music after the first few seconds, its quite likely that I will download the track and put it into my library. It might not get a lot of play time, but maybe it’ll come on one day and strike a chord with me, and I’ll ask myself, “whoa, who is this artist?” Then, you’ve got a new fan.

Also, only because I’m trying to stay involved in the music scene in the GTA, if you’re in the area I’ll make more of an attempt to listen to your music. There’s more of a chance that I could attend a show and get to meet you anyways, so I’ll put in a little bit more time.

But random friend request? No downloadable tunes? Not from around here? Forget it. I’m sure you make nice music, but you’re not winning yourself any new fans.

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Why I Don’t Use MySpace

I strongly dislike MySpace. Unfortunately, as the de facto standard for online communication in the music world, it sometimes feels necessary. Though I maintain an account for my band, I refuse to create my own personal or artist account.

It’s not that I refuse to participate in “social networking”. I’m a bit of a Facebook fanatic and my friends can attest to that (though Facebook calls itself a social utility instead of a social network). It’s MySpace in particular that inspires loathing.

Security: Things like the Samy Worm, a cross-site scripting attack that took MySpace by storm in October 2005, make me feel uneasy about the freedom a user has to add anything to their profile. Although it was largely due to an Internet Explorer vulnerability (there are many) that Samy was able to get his code to execute (which thankfully, was not malicious), there are other security holes which are MySpace’s fault – such as the ability to view a user’s private data – which go unpatched for months.

Privacy: Ignoring the huge security holes in MySpace privacy settings that have existed in the past (mentioned above and here), MySpace simply has no hope of ever coming close to implementing the types of complex privacy controls that Facebook has; you can tell they just don’t have the infrastructure in place. There are no networks, no meaning to relationships such as “friend of a friend” (since it’s more common to be friends with a stranger than someone you actually know), and hardly any ability to separate off sections of your profile, since it’s largely a single section where anything goes. Privacy settings seem to consist of simply “public” or “private”, rather than having any real meaningful or useful control over your content.

Search: ie. lack thereof. Try finding one of your friends who’s not in your Top 8 and hasn’t posted on your profile recently. Enough said. It’s easier to find someone who you’re not already friends with on Facebook than it is to navigate to a friend’s profile on MySpace.

Design: MySpace design is practically non-existent. There is actually no bar that’s set because anything goes. The lack of any sort of unity between profiles breaks so many fundamental rules of user interface design. People can change the basic buttons (e.g. the “Add as Friend” or “Message” buttons), and even change/hide the main website header! And I don’t even have the patience to talk about the freedom to mess with the colour scheme. On Facebook, you can’t fundamentally alter the look or structure of your profile. That’s because the focus is on the profile content, rather than it being some sort of contest to see who can deviate from the standard most. It makes navigation and communication easy without limiting a user’s ability to “express themselves” in a meaningful way. True freedom is not an absence of any structure or rules. In order to drive, we all need to agree to some basic rules of the road. Without that structure, we’d have the freedom to do anything on the roads, yet we’d lose our freedom to use them for safe and effective travel.

Bugs: Now, as a programmer, I know that there will always be bugs in software. But for a website as big as MySpace to constantly tell me “You must be logged in to do that” when I am trying to log in, to have broken links in the inbox, to constantly serve up “unexpected errors” or to not warn a user when javascript is needed and not enabled just makes me feel embarrassed for them. I deleted a message from my inbox today from Tom assuring me that MySpace did “NOT DELETE” any of my friends. There was just a bug they’d discovered that rendered a friend count inaccurate, which, upon correcting, had lowered some people’s friend counts. How hard can it possibly be to maintain a friend count? And how hard can it be for a social networking site to develop a mechanism for making announcements to users that doesn’t involve spamming the entire user base?

Culture: Internet culture often inspires the lowest common denominator. MySpace inspires some of the worst. Case in point: my band received a friend request (and accompanying message) from this guy today. Somebody shoot me. Err.. $ombodyz sh00t me!!~~~ (Yes – I rejected the request.)

Intrusive Advertisements: MySpace needs a button to report inappropriate content on its advertisements. I have the desire to report ads much more often than I ever have the desire to report user content (unless it’s a message from Tom…). Someone needs to introduce them to the words “quality” and “control”.

Autoplay: I’m sick and tired of reaching for the mute button (especially since it’s never in the same place).

Pet Peeve: Is it just me or is the equalizer in the MySpace music player just faking it?

I’ll continue to maintain my band’s MySpace profile (as long as it feels necessary), but let me take this opportunity to reaffirm my resolve to boycott MySpace on a personal level. I’d much rather use more powerful, user-friendly utilities such as Facebook and Last.fm (see my artist page – who needs MySpace!).

I think MySpace’s days are numbered. Here’s to hoping that number is relatively small.

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