There are few things I like more than popping in some earbuds and listening to my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. It seriously never lets me down; I’ve discovered some of my favorite bands using this feature. But how do they do it? How is it that every single week that algorithm comes up with something new and awesome for my ears to enjoy? I did some digging, and it turns out that it’s actually more social than you’d think. Like most social media, it depends on other people.
What Spotify does is it goes through all of the playlists that exist on the platform and if a couple of your favorite songs happen to show up together with a new song you haven’t listened to, it adds it to your Discover Weekly. It sounds way more complicated than it is. Basically, it finds where your tastes overlap with others’ and mixes it all together! It’s like a social media platform that you didn’t even realize you were participating in. That’s why I’ve chosen to write about the streaming app in particular; it moves past traditional conceptions of what a social network is. Information is being exchanged between parties, albeit musical, and others’ selections are visible to you. In this way, Spotify resembles the classical definition of a social network.
This algorithm is not the only feature of Spotify that makes it a social network. You have the option to follow artists and other users to receive updates on their playlists or music additions. There’s even a messaging feature and a way to see what others are listening to. Using music as a social platform seems obvious, but in this bloggers opinion Spotify has been the most successful in doing so. Competing apps like Pandora and Apple Music just haven’t seemed to grasp what makes music so social: the human component. Where Apple Music might suggest the band Slipknot to someone who listened to one Three Doors Down song, Spotify would be a bit more nuanced. Spotify utilizes this human ear for good tunes by promoting playlist creation and trusts other people to make selections rather than a computer generated category scanner.
This mechanization of human labor – people choose the songs and algorithms sift through and pick them – has interesting implications for the future of social networking. Will algorithms like the one Spotify uses for Discover Weekly eventually determine how we make connections on other sites? Will Facebook begin to just automatically expand our circles? Maybe Twitter will just draft tweets based on word choices from your retweets. In any case, Spotify has been and still is my go to for finding new music. If algorithms controlling my life means I might get some more jams to walk to class to, it would be alright with me.