Since my posting on research into iTunes music sharing, I've got a copy of the full paper and found time to read it on a recent train journey. Last time I focused on how people manage the impressions that others get from their music collections, but the research also has interesting things to say about unanticipated uses of iTunes sharing, and implications for enhancing the sharing features.
The paper — by Amy Voida and four co-writers — points out how iTunes differs from the large-scale peer-to-peer applications (like the original Napster, KaZaA etc), which tended to anonymise music sharing. With the latter, a user downloading a track will typically have no interaction with the person who made it available for sharing. With iTunes, sharing is restricted to people on the same subnet, which often means the users know each other personally off-line. In the 175-employee organisation where the research took place, there were four different subnets, three of which were restricted to single floors in a building. This significantly alters the nature and dynamics of the sharing. For example, where the big peer-to-peer applications require thousands of users before they reach critical mass or tipping point, this research suggests that iTunes sharing can be viable and valued with just two users — in circumstances where they also share experiences and understandings in other parts of their lives.
All the research findings reflect different ways in which technical, musical and organisational factors (or, as the researchers call them, "topologies") are overlaid and interact with each other.
Uses of new communications technologies frequently evolve in ways that their designers did not anticipate. The enormous volume of SMS usage is one significant example. There have been personal and anecdotal accounts of interactions in online communities, or social networks as everyone calls them these days (John Seabrook's Deeper, Howard Rheingold's Virtual Community, Stacy Horn's Cyberville). But Voida et al's paper fits better into the genre of research that shows how organisational relationships get played out through the medium of network technology (Wanda Orlikowski's study, showing how competitive corporate culture can undermine the collaboration that a groupware system is supposed to foster, is a classic of the genre).
Some of the unexpected social and organisational by-products of iTunes sharing in the organisation in the study include:
The researchers review the design implications of several of their findings. This list is a distillation of some of the recommendations that stem from the research.
The conclusion of the paper suggests that recommendations such as the last of these represent a possible coming together of technological innovation and legal/ethical considerations. The researchers believe their works shows that users' motivations for using potentially illegal services like getTunes (allowing download rather than streaming of others' music) may be "entirely reasonable". Whether RIAA and BPI members would agree with this is doubtful.
The most telling conclusion of the research may be that, "If it were not for musically-related social interaction outside of iTunes, these participants would not have discovered new music inside of iTunes". This may be an important corrective to those (and I admit that at times I'm one) who imagine scenarios where recommendation and word-of-mouth services like Last.FM and Webjay operate almost exclusively online, without reference to interactions off-line and in other media.
The new music that people listen to is not determined solely by their previous musical preferences, but also by apparently tangential and non-musical factors.Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia, Playlists, Social Software on 6 May 02005 | TrackBack