December 13, 2018Published by: Charlie Sharpe

Tuning in: The apps and brands evolving into quasi-social networks

If, like myself, you’re an avid Spotify user, you may have noticed recently that pop-up notifications have started appearing on the ‘Made For You’ tab. It seems the feature has been around for ages, so it surprised me that Spotify is making a more concerted effort to push it. Is it to focus our attention on something we’d previously ignored, maybe?

From its creation, there have always been parts of Spotify that seem to be trying to push music out of its traditionally private sphere. When you stream music on desktop, your profile automatically links to the Activity Bar and allows anyone who follows your account to see what song you’re listening to. Through this app mechanic, your musical tastes become a socially defining action made public to a wider audience. In the Profile section, you also have a Following and Followers section. To the trained eye, it seems like the music streaming service is evolving into a quasi-social media business.

Some of Spotify’s newer features, videos and codes, help make the case. Videos were poorly received after they started interrupting the playlists of premium members who are already charged £9.99 a month to avoid interruption and ads. So following the initial backlash, Spotify scaled back its video advertising to appease subscribers, but it’s still possible to stumble across music videos and stories-like content that plays automatically when you listen to certain songs (example: In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel).

And when codes launched, TechCrunch said it could herald an interesting new development for the future of the music industry. Will we start to see albums released with Spotify codes printed on the covers? At the moment we still don’t know, but whether it happens or not, it’s telling that Spotify is again focusing on the social aspect of listening to music and the shareability.

Even the way playlists are now set up suggest a social element. It’s no longer just a case of clicking the ‘New Playlist’ button and typing in a random name. Now you can add an image and a ‘catchy description’. They are fast becoming social projects with collaborative playlists for people of similar interests and friendship groups to share. They are created to be social, for social media.


VSCO in the picture

Another product that seems to be morphing into a social platform is photography app, VSCO. When the company launched in 2011, it was clear about its purpose. Co-founder Joel Flory announced that VSCO was “not interested in creating another social network”. A quick glance, however, at its profile pages (‘Grids’) and it looked very much like an Instagram-alternative platform.

Seven years later, VSCO now describes itself as “a community driven by self-expression”, phrases like this highlight the app’s evolution into a fully-fledged social media platform. It’s a self-proclaimed community, still targeted at artistic photographers, but serving as a platform for users to share their work and discover others’.

Granted, moves like the launch of VSCO X – its premium subscription-based option – suggest an effort to move away from being a social media platform and towards a paid-for service (like Netflix or, originally, Spotify). But the app’s basic features including direct messages and the “Studio” do suggest a clear social element.

This year, it even served as a platform for users to come together around World Mental Health Day and provided a creative outlet for users’ mental health. While still focused around the creative core of VSCO, this event highlights the social power the app has developed since its creation.

So it begs the question - with services like VSCO and Spotify evolving into these quasi-social media platforms, are we witnessing the start of a new trend? Will we soon be able to see our friends’ Netflix watchlists, and ‘like’ or comment on what they’re consuming?

Video gaming has already turned into a massively multiplayer online social experience – will previously personal cultural habits like music, TV and film cross over too? We’ll be watching (and listening) with interest, as it could open new doors for brands looking to cut through the noise.

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