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Can Facebook Find a Hit with Music? Probably Not

Once again, speculation over a Facebook music service is buzzing online.

We've heard a lot about Facebook's musical ambitions over the past year with not a peep coming from Facebook on its' actual plans. Now comes fresh speculation from the website Mashable that claim Facebook is prepping a music service to go live September 22 at the F8 developers conference held in San Francisco.

Mashable claims Facebook wants to be your online destination for music streaming from services such as Spotify and Rdio in the same way you go to Facebook to play games such as Farmville and Scrabble. At launch, Facebook would purportedly offer access to Spotify, MOG and Rdio, but other streaming services such as Rhapsody may also be included. Facebook might also expand its video streaming offerings in the future by including access to services such as Netflix, according to the Mashable report.

Under the rumored music scheme, Facebook wouldn't actually host any content, but instead would provide access to its more than three-quarters of a billion users. Third-party music streaming services would then deliver content via their servers to your Facebook page.

So far, Facebook isn't talking about its music plans, but the company didn't rule out the possibility of a forthcoming music service either.

"There's nothing new to announce," a Facebook spokesperson told PCWorld. "Many of the most popular music services around the world are integrated with Facebook and we're constantly talking to our partners about ways to improve these integrations."

Facebook has long been rumored to offer some kind of music integration with popular services such as Spotify. GigaOm in June reported similar music rumors to Mashable's. In July, traces of a purported music service called Vibes showed up in the code for a Facebook video chat plugin.

iLike Music

If the latest rumors are true, this also would not be the first time a music service has integrated with Facebook. MySpace's iLike, for example, has allowed you to stream music clips via Facebook for some time.

However, Facebook has never partnered with popular streaming services that would presumably operate on Facebook the same way they do outside of the social network. Spotify, for example, lets you stream ad-free music to your mobile device and store playlists for offline listening for $10 per month. The company also offers a free ad-supported streaming-only option. Rdio costs $10 for unlimited streaming and offline storage, and MOG offers a similar deal. Would these services allow you to stream music under the same terms inside Facebook?

Facebook's Base

For music services, Facebook could be a boon for winning over more music fans. Facebook has more than 750 million users--that's just over half the size of China, the world's most populous nation--who collectively spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the service and share more than 30 billion pieces of content every 30 days, according to Facebook statistics. Add to that the fact that music itself is an inherently social activity involving sharing, commenting, and attending concerts together, and Facebook sounds like the perfect online location for music.

But is it? Spotify, for example, already offers Facebook integration on its desktop applications for Windows, Mac and Linux. These apps let you share songs with friends and view your friends' public playlists right on your desktop. That integration is part of the reason Spotify became such a popular service in Europe before its recent launch in the U.S. You can also post links to your public Spotify playlists or favorite songs in Facebook and other online services.

If Zuck Builds It, Will They Come?

The average American spent about 5 hours a month on Facebook in July, according to metrics firm Nielsen (the company warns its recent Facebook measurement may be underreported due to technical changes). But it's not clear what the average visit is in consecutive minutes spent on Facebook. Based on Nielsen's numbers, U.S. users spent roughly 10.5 minutes per day on Facebook in July. That's barely long enough to listen to three, 3-minute songs in 24 hours. Would a rumored new Facebook music service convince people to spend more time on the site than other popular Facebook diversions such as Farmville, photo viewing, and instant messaging?

Facebook Movies

A limited number of Warner Bros. movie titles have been available for rent via Facebook since March, and Miramax recently started offering movies on Facebook as well. But movie rentals haven't put the social network on top of competing sites such as Netflix, Hulu and UStream in terms of time spent watching videos online per user, according to Nielsen. In fact, Facebook doesn't even rank in the top 10 video sites for June when you look at time spent watching content.

Then there's music's history of attempts at getting social online. The most recent contender, Apple's Ping, has not caught on, although getting people to spend more time in iTunes was probably not an ideal concept to begin with. Being the go to destination for online music couldn't even save MySpace from being run over by Facebook. AOL is still trying to attract people to AOL Music after an experiment with iTunes in 2003 and Napster in 2007. The company's latest effort is a new iPhone app called Play that lets people share links to track with their friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Will Facebook fare any better? Perhaps! Facebook has a massive user base compared to previous online social music services. And nobody does social better than Facebook at the moment. For that reason, many music services already integrate to some degree with Facebook.

If the company can come up with an innovative reason to convince users to play their music through Facebook instead of a browser or desktop application, the company's rumored music platform may succeed. But I wouldn't bet on it just yet.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.


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