After years of anticipation, this morning the Spotify music streaming service launched in the United States with support of all the major record labels. The launch is the continuation of a partnership between Spotify and Facebook that could evolve into a special integration including prominent placement on Facebook. This alliance has the potential to threaten Apple, which chose to partner with Twitter for social integrations in iTunes Ping and iOS 5.
For now, the Spotify-Facebook experience is limited to the use of Connect in the Spotify desktop client. This allows one to import their friend list so they can listen to music from the playlists of friends, and to easily share songs to Facebook.
The current Facebook Connect integration should help Spotify ramp up traction in the United States, and doesn’t raise any privacy concerns. Beyond the iTunes rivalry, a deeper Facebook integration could help Spotify become a serious competitor to other established music services such as Pandora, Amazon, and Rhapsody.
Spotify is now distributing invites to its free service to pre-registered users and honoring invites already passed to users by friends from abroad. Soon, anyone in the US will be able to stream music for 10 hours through the free but ad-supported Spotify Open service. US users can get immediate access by paying $4.99 a month for Spotify Unlimited which has no listening cap or ads, or $9.99 for Spotify Premium which also includes access from mobile devices and enhanced sound quality.
Spotify has also partnered with Klout to give the influence scoring service’s users Spotify invites. However, the overwhelming demand crashed Klout and it has run out of invites, but will distribute more tomorrow.
As we’ll describe below, US users can now listen to the music of their friends and share links to songs to the news feed. Spotify properly protects user privacy by not publishing a user’s playlists without permission. Those in the US will also now be able to use Facebook apps such as branded promotions that are powered by Spotify. Users will not see a bookmark to Spotify in the Facebook navigation menu, or be able to simultaneously listen to a song with friends — two features that could be released in the future as either a special integration or as part of Facebook’s Music Dashboard.
Social Music Discovery With Respect for Privacy
Once users have downloaded and launched the desktop client, they’ll see a big “Connect to Facebook” prompt on the right side of the music player which tempts users to “Discover what your friends are listening to”. Facebook is Spotify’s premiere social partner, powering identity and interconnection between users. A Twitter integration is present, but merely allows users to launch a tweet composer in their browser to share songs. This draws some battle lines, as Apple has chosen Twitter to power single-sign on and quick sharing in iOS 5 as well as it’s in-app social network Ping.
If users click through the Facebook Connect button and grant the app extended permissions, they’re informed that upon completing the connection, their playlists will be shared publicly. However, in a smart privacy move, users are given a chance to first edit their privacy settings and select to hide the playlists they created in Spotify or that have been automatically imported from iTunes. Users can also choose whether newly created or imported playlists will be visible by default.
As some users might have playlists with sensitive names or content, such as ones dedicated to friends or romantic partners, it’s important that Spotify provides the option to hide playlists before they’ve ever published.
Once users finish the Facebook Connect proces, they see all their friends who are on Spotify in the right sidebar. Clicking on these friends displays their published playlists, which users can stream. Users can click to compose and publish a news feed story linking to a song or playlist within Spotify. Links can also be easily shared directly with Facebook friends that are on Spotify through an in-app messaging, or be published to Twitter or Windows Live Messager through web popups.
When users click through Spotify news feed stories while on Facebook, songs do not play in-line. Instead the song will automatically play in Spotify if the app is open, or the user will be prompted to get the app if they don’t have it. Until Spotify completes its rollout in the US, these links could be a little infuriating to users waiting for an invite.
Once Spotify is publicly available to the 150 million or so Facebook users in the United States, you can expect more brands to integrate the music streaming service into the tab applications they host on their Page. Spotify API-powered apps let brands offer compelling experiences cheaply and easily, while providing exposure for the streaming service. For instance, a Page could display a playlist and ask users to vote for what song best describes their brand.
There’s certainly room for deeper social integration, especially on Facebook.com. Turntable.fm has shown that users are interested in synchronous listening with friends. The ability to perisistently display one’s recent listens in the Facebook profile, or a central hub where one could view all the songs shared by friends could drive conversation and Likes of musician Pages.
Facebook gave Spotify some love this morning, posting an announcement of the launch and a link to the service to several of its official Pages. Former Facebook President Sean Parker also published an emphatic Facebook Note heralding Spotify as the successor to his old company Napster and the answer to the music industry’s financial woes. Those are nice tokens, but placement on the Facebook home page could give Spotify the exposure it will need to displace iTunes and the other music download and streaming services.