What is Twitter #Music?
The first thing to know about Twitter #Music is that it is not simply another music-streaming service. You can use the app to listen to music on your iPhone or iPad, but only if you also sign up for Spotify or Rdio (which you can do via the app). But if it's those apps that actually play the music, #Music tells you what you might like to play. And it does so based on what people are saying on Twitter. The Twitter #Music service launched today in the UK, as well as the US, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. It is available as an iPhone and iPad app, and via a website interface. It's a free service, but to listen via Spotify on your iPhone or iPad you'll need to pay for Spotify Pro. You can also hear previews of songs via iTunes, but to listen to the whole song that way you need to buy it from Apple's music store. And Twitter says it will be partnering with other music services soon. See also: Best iPhone and iPad apps.
It's a complementary service, not a challenger to Twitter itself. So you can't post within the app or even follow artists. Instead you can Tweet about the songs you are playing, and follow artists' Twitter feeds. This also means that like Twitter itself Twitter #Music is totally transient. You can't tag or save music to listen later. It simply shows you what is hot right now.
Using Twitter posts to discover new music is a neat idea. After all, where once we went to record shops and browsed through album covers to dig out new tracks, now songs are suggested to us by algorythm based on what we buy. So rather than taking a leap the internet can make our tastes more homogenous. Twitter content is largely created by individual humans, after all, so the power of social adds a personal level to the recommendations. Or so the theory goes...
Twitter #Music: how it works
Here's the practice: install and open the #Music app and you'll find it is split into four sections. Each comprises picture tiles representing music artists - 140 of them (geddit?). Tap the tile and it increases in size to display the song and the artist. If you have signed in to Rdio or Spotify you can then play that track direct from the app. 'Popular' shows you the 140 artists currently being discussed the most on Twitter. 'Emerging' is what #Musix considers 'Hidden talent found in the Tweets'. Scroll over to 'Suggested' and you'll find the music Twitter thinks you must like based on your social musings. Finally, '#NowPlaying' shows you artists recently Tweeted by those people you follow.
This is important. If you listen to music via Twitter #Music, you can Tweet the song you are playing. If enough people start doing that it will work well as a means of recommending music. If not, it will simply be a means of ranking new music in a different way.
The first two areas, Popular and Emerging, are interesting in a 'oh that's what is most popular on Twitter' kind of way. It's like looking at what is trending on Twitter proper: it's kind of interesting that #sometimesiwishthat or 'Andy Murray' are currently trending on Twitter, but in order for me to click I have to be interested in those trends per se. (I am interested in tennis, so I clicked to find out the story.) At this stage at least Twitter #Music feels similar. Are you really going to play a track because it is the most popular on Twitter? Have you met the people on Twitter?
In part because the only information you get is an image of the artist, their ranking number, and the name of the track, there is no compelling reason to click to play the 'Popular' or even 'Emerging' tracks.
Certainly, there is no more reason to play them than there is to go out and buy the top 10 singles (if such a thing still exists). You can link through to the artist's Twitter profile, but I'm not sure I would want to play any musicians track based on their Tweets. Who they follow it potentially interesting, and you can of course see that.
It would also be interesting to know how #Music differentiates Popular artists and tracks from Emerging - some of the artists in the Emerging section have been around for a while, but both sections appear to work in the same way. The word on the street seems to be that 'Emerging' is for indie artists, although what exactly that constitutes in the digital world is an interesting point.
In my view, unless you are desparate to listen to something popular, I can't really see how Emerging or Popular would be that useful. They simply show what is new and popular. Interesting, but not a great way of finding new music. Perhaps if #Music becomes popular and Twitter users start to overtly use the hashtag to promote what they feel passionately about #Music could become a good place to find breaking music.
In the mean time the other two areas, 'Suggested' and '#NowPlaying' have more potential. But potential is all, for now. Suggested shows you artists you might like based on your posts and who you follow. In my case it was fairly accurate, although oddly skewed toward classic folk and pop. It did at least inspire me to listen to Donovan and Steve Winwood, both of whom I have neglected. (Sorry guys.) #NowPlaying shows you what artists have been Tweeted by people you follow.
That is a great idea: like Apple's great big fail Ping, but without the need for a separate social network. If you tend to follow people you know and like, or admire from a far, it follows that you will be at least marginally interested in their music tastes. But for this section to work the people you follow need to be Tweeting about music. In all probability they need to be using Twitter #Music and posting about the songs they are playing from within the app.
Is Twitter #Music any good?
It's a nice idea, but it feels very early in the day. It would be good if Twitter had properly sorted out a music-provider partner. It is kind of clunky to have to sign in to a third party (although that is very Twitter). And it would be good to see more advanced features such as the ability to tag music to listen later, and to see other tracks by the same artist.
And unless sufficient of your Twitter contacts use the service to make it truly relevent it will simply be a list of the most popular tunes with the vast numbers of people who use Twitter. Right now, realistically, that means all your friends have to be iPhone users. Still, Twitter #Music is brand new and free, so take it for a spin.
See also: Best iPhone and iPad apps.