Is iLike a growing threat to

I’ve been writing this blog for about a year now, and I’ve written many times about and iLike, and often in the same post. But every since iLike’s Facebook app began its juggernaut climb to the top of the FBapp charts, the number of hits this blog gets from people searching some variant of “iLike vs.” has shot up dramatically. Ok, well, dramatically might be overstating since we’re talking relatively small numbers. BUT we weren’t talking any numbers at all a month ago.

What do I take from this? I think iLike is getting more attention and its viability as a alternative is being considered by people who weren’t considering it before. Or another interpretation is that the iLike application has made people aware of music-based tracking/networking sites and they’ve heard something about this ‘’ thing and want to know more.

I’m not sure what the explanation is, but it seems pretty clear that there’s more explicit comparing of the 2 services going on in the last few weeks than there was before.

If you use both — the sites, the FB apps, both, either — tell us how you think the 2 compare in the comments!

The Summer Research Life

It’s a busy time for little old Nancy these days. In addition to extended vacationing in Colorado, I’m working on several research projects. I don’t usually dwell too much on my researcher persona on this blog, but I thought some of you might be interested to hear what I’m up to, so here goes:

I’m about to collect data for two research projects that touch directly on fandom. First, I’m conducting a survey about the meaning of “friending” on I’ve long been intrigued by the use of the term “friend” in social network sites and the complexities of relationships that the term may mask. The topic’s been addressed to a small extent in Friendster, MySpace, and LiveJournal, but as far as I can tell, no one has looked at it in a site devoted specifically to fan-based activity. If you use, or know people who do, your participation is welcome, whether you have any friends or not. The survey is posted here. The office crew have been very supportive of this project and I want to thank them for that.

I’m also getting ready to conduct interviews for a study about the role(s) of online fans in Swedish indie music fandom. Obviously, this is a fandom with which I strongly identify (click on the radio button on the lower right to hear some of the music involved) and I’m very curious about how active online fans are carving out new roles for themselves in distributing, publicizing, (re)releasing, and other things I hope to discover before long. If you’re involved with that fandom as active fan, blogger, label person, musician, or otherwise, and are willing to be interviewed, please shoot me a message!

And then there’s the little matter of the book I’m writing for Polity Press, called Personal Connections in a Digital Age that’s part of their new Digital Media and Society series. They publish some amazing authors and books and I’m honored that I’ll be in that kind of company. For the last several years I’ve been teaching a class called Communication and the Internet, and last fall I taught a graduate seminar called Personal Relationships and Communication Technologies (click for course syllabi). This book will pull together the topics covered in those courses and serve as a one-stop-shop for people who want to know more about how people use the internet and mobile phones in personal relationships and what social consequences their uses may have. It’s aimed at students, scholars, and general readers who are more interested in what the research shows than in polemics. The book is not about fandom, but that will certainly rear its head, especially in the chapters on online community and social networks. It won’t be done for several months yet, and likely won’t see publication until late 2008 or even early 2009.

So right now, for whatever reasons, I find myself very motivated to work on these, and a bit less motivated to work on this blog. I’ll certainly keep posting here, but the daily stuff is going to subside for a while. If you’ve got tips to send on things I should cover, though, please keep sending them along! I’ll leave you with this (mirror image) shot of the well-situated scholar at work. What can I say? Someone’s gotta use that deck* :)



* my sister calls it “Baymwood: A pretentious patio restaurant in Aspen.”

Why not all friends are the same

In commenting on the enhanced value iLike can offer its users through the Facebook platform rather than the platform, CEO Ali Partovi said:

The #1 way people discover music is through friends, and iLike’s mission is to facilitate that. Facebook enhances this in two key ways: 1) instant personalization. On our dot-com site, each new user needs to tell us their music tastes, invite their friends, and get those friends to tell us their tastes. Whereas on our Facebook site, we already know your tastes, your friends, and their tastes, so we can offer you a personalized experience automatically. 2) Not another social network. People don’t wanna go somewhere separate just for music — they want music to enhance their existing online social life. For example: where would you rather see a notification that your buddies are going to see Snow Patrol: on a separate music website, or in the Facebook news feed that you’re already checking five times a day?

This last comment was picked up by Matthew Ingram of the Toronto Globe and Mail, who said “not a bad point.”

But I think it’s a point with some real problems. One of the great shortcomings of social network sites as they currently exist is that almost all of them offer you only one kind of friend. It’s binary — you’re a friend or you aren’t. Now there are some shades of grey on some sites: Flickr lets you call people friends, family or contacts and restrict content shared accordingly; Facebook lets you limit what some friends see and limit how much you see about some friends. But no social network site offers anywhere near the shades of gray that characterize real life friendship.

So let’s think for a minute about music and friendship. Once upon a time, back in the carefree days of youth before career and family came to shape my life above all other forces, my friendship group and my pop culture taste group were one and the same. My friends were my friends because they listened to the same bands I did, or at least their interests were close enough. If there had been Facebook back then, I’d be with Partovi all the way — yeah, combine them, why keep it separate?

But it’s not that way anymore. My Facebook friends are almost all people I know face-to-face as well. The few that aren’t are those who are either friends of friends (in a get together off line and have fun sense of the term) or people with common career interests to my own that I’ve had interesting interactions with. Am I interested in their musical taste? Well, as a matter of curiosity, but I have no reason to think there’s going to be any overlap in tastes, and no real compelling reason to care if a friend who I love hanging out with at conferences is going to see Snow Patrol. I certainly don’t want these people to serve as a primary source of music recommendations and I may be delighted when they listen to my radio stream and like it, but I certainly don’t expect them to care about my musical tastes. Yes, it’s cool in those moments when I discover, for example, that Jason Mittell not only has overlapping intellectual curiousities, but a lot of overlapping musical taste too, but that’s the exception.

In contrast, I have met very few of my friends. Most of them I imagine I’d have very little to say to if we were to meet. On the other hand, I can have rewarding interactions with them about music, and in many cases, their musical tastes are of great interest to me.

I would be happy to have my Facebook friends as part of my friendship network, but I would never want my friends subsumed within my Facebook network.

The short point here is that as long as we are limited to a friend vs not friend way of categorizing people, there are tremendous benefits to keeping “friends” separate on separate sites. I agree people don’t want multiple social networking sites, but until we are given meaningful ways to categorize friends within social networking sites, those of us who have online ‘friends’ of very different sorts need them.

There’s a lot of research out there about the many dynamics of relationship grouped together within the broad concept of friendship, and people developing social network sites would be wise to familiarize themselves with it and offer richer relational categorizing choices. But so long as a social network ‘friend’ is an either/or relationship, banking on the convergence of all such sites is profoundly limiting.

In particular, I suspect it is limiting the happy user base to teenagers and other young people who are most likely to have one sort of identity around which their friendships revolve (though it’s still important not to oversimplify teenage friendships). But those of us who, for better or worse, have come to have more bifurcated selves with different friendships that accompany each, and very few that span them all, are important too. There are many more of us, and all those teens are going to turn into us. Right now social network sites are used primarily by teens, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. Older folks need music social networking sites much more than teens do for this very reason — we are much less likely have peers who we can rely on to turn us on to new music. And we’re the ones with tons o’ cash to drop on music purchases.

How to make me happy

It’s really not hard, just make me one of these!

(click for full size)


Too bad for the rest of you, it’s already been done.

This is a visualization of my listens over the last two and a half years.

Thank you David Maya! Get yours here (if you’ve got Windows).

iLike’s CEO on the Wonders of Facebook Integration

iLike’s Facebook application continues to add hundreds of thousands of listeners every day. As I write it’s got just under 2.2 MILLION users just 2 weeks after its launch. In contrast,’s official application has 62,000 and MOG’s even fewer. The other day I speculated on whether this had led to a decline in visits to Ali Partovi, iLike CEO, explained in the comments that:

a) given the explosive growth on Facebook, we intentionally disabled various aspects of — including all email notifications, newsletters, etc — deliberately hoping to temporarily reduce our traffic to conserve server capacity for our Facebook app.

b) despite these efforts, the massive Facebook traffic caused daily outages all last week, not only on Facebook’s own servers but also on ours, taking out both the iLike FB app and

While I won’t be surprised to see a time when users are “switching” in significant numbers to use iLike on Facebook, I don’t think that’s happening yet.

As of now, the users of still greatly outnumber the users of iLike on Facebook (perhaps not for long!). Also, we have not yet announced our Facebook app to the iLike mailing list, nor have we interlinked the two databases — so users on can’t (yet) easily switch their accounts over to Facebook. As these things change over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to watch — indeed a lot of users might switch permanently to using iLike on Facebook instead!

My curiosity was piqued by this last sentence, and especially it’s enthusaistic tone, as though people leaving for iLike-the-Facebook-application might be a GOOD thing. So I followed up on that, and here’s our conversation:

Nancy: It sounds from your comment like iLike would be quite content to have its users using the site from within Facebook vs going to Is that right? And what are the implications of that for how sites like iLike operate in the future?

Ali: Well, we know that iLike’s functionality, no matter how good on its own, can be even better when deeply integrated in to the Facebook platform. Although we’ve barely started the migration of functions from to Facebook, already we can tell that iLike on FB will be *better* for the consumer than on its own.

Having accepted that, the rest writes itself. There’s no way we’d try to fight an uphill battle against what’s best for the consumer. And fortunately, in contrast to the precariously-balanced “Myspace widget ecosystem,” making $ on the FB platform is no harder than making $ on our own site. In fact, the business model doesn’t change at all — the only difference is that it will take more effort to build and maintain multiple versions of our site (especially if we need to support more than one such platform, if FB’s competitors create equivalent platforms of their own).

N: In what ways do you think iLike on FB is “better for the consumer?” How is its functionality improved through FB integration?

A: The #1 way people discover music is through friends, and iLike’s mission is to facilitate that. Facebook enhances this in two key ways: 1) instant personalization. On our dot-com site, each new user needs to tell us their music tastes, invite their friends, and get those friends to tell us their tastes. Whereas on our Facebook site, we already know your tastes, your friends, and their tastes, so we can offer you a personalized experience automatically. 2) Not another social network. People don’t wanna go somewhere separate just for music — they want music to enhance their existing online social life. For example: where would you rather see a notification that your buddies are going to see Snow Patrol: on a separate music website, or in the Facebook news feed that you’re already checking five times a day?

N: As I understand it, right now iLike Facebook users are not linked to users, so people might be running 2 accounts with you. Is that right? And if it is, will the accounts eventually be linked?

A: That’s correct — people’s existing accounts on are not (yet) linked to their accounts on Facebook. This is an interim situation that we’ll hopefully resolve in a few weeks. We had only a few weeks to build iLike on Facebook so we postponed some of the bigger tasks… what you see today is just the beginning!

N: I’ve heard that the main source of iLike revenue is through Ticketmaster. Is that accurate (and hence why it doesn’t matter where on the web iLike users are using iLike)?

A: As an ad-supported site, we can make as much money on our Facebook app as on our own dot-com site — perhaps even more! Regardless of which site you visit, we can learn your tastes, recommend new music or concerts to you, provide links for you to buy, collect affiliate fees, and show you ads along the way. In fact, on our Facebook app, we know more about you, so we should be able to make more money by showing you more relevant ads.

N: You’re suggesting you see iLike eventually operating through multiple sites, not just Facebook. Are there any plans in the works to launch applications for other platforms?

A: There’s no other platform out there (yet) that remotely approaches what Facebook offers today. Will Facebook’s competitors successfully launch something competitive? That’s the Web2.0 question of the year. Strategically, I don’t love being dependent on a single platform; but I’m also not sure the market has room for another. There’s an enormous network effect that favors everything on the same platform.

N: It seems that particularly in the last few months we’re seeing increasing trending toward the fusion of what used to be multiple sites — startpages, widgets, Facebook applications. Do you have any general thoughts or insights on the opportunities and challenges of this trend?

A: I see it as not just a trend, but an epic Darwinian clash between platforms. Over ten years we’ve seen the gradual evolution of a “widget syndication” model, where companies push features out into embeddable snippets. Against that gradual trend, the Facebook platform is a massive evolutionary leap: rather than extending my website through widgets, I can now build an entirely new, more powerful site from scratch with the awesome building blocks that Facebook offers. Which approach is better? Only time will tell, but my prediction is that those who embrace Facebook’s platform will beat those who don’t. I don’t see Facebook’s Platform as part of a trend in the evolution of widgets, except in the sense that the emergence of mammals was part of a trend in the evolution of giant reptiles.

N: Finally, are there any other things you think I (and Online Fandom readers) ought to know about iLike that I haven’t asked about?

N: It’s amazing that our Facebook app has gone from zero to 2 million users in less than two weeks… I don’t know of any new technology in history growing that fast. And we’ve only just begun :)