This week, Spotify despatched some unspecified portion of its a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of customers a message. The message instructed these customers one thing vital.
“You are one of Taylor Swift’s top fans worldwide,” one iteration of this message mentioned. “You’re one of their top 1% fans. Hit Play on their radio and we’ll provide an endless stream of their music.”
People acquired comparable messages about a wide selection of artists within the app: Kendrick Lamar, the Barenaked Ladies, Tove Lo, the Doors and plenty of, many extra. The Spotify customers weren’t at all times within the high one p.c of followers; some messages claimed listeners ranked within the high two or three p.c of the artists’ followers.
Many reacted to those messages as Spotify might need hoped they might, sharing them with mates and with followers on social media. Regina Anderson, 22, was one in every of many individuals instructed they had been amongst Ms. Swift’s high followers and who, upon receiving the message, broadcast it broadly.
But one thing struck Ms. Anderson, a communications assistant in Washington, D.C., concerning the message.
“The way that they phrase it is a little weird,” she mentioned. “It just seems odd. I guess one percent of Taylor Swift’s monthly listeners is 300,000 or something like that.” She puzzled what number of different individuals had acquired the identical message.
Peter Collins, a spokesperson for Spotify, declined to supply any data on what number of followers acquired them, how the odds had been calculated or what it meant to be in a high percentile of an artist’s fan base.
Mr. Collins did classify the messages as a “test.”
“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” he mentioned in an announcement. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time.”
Like many different media platforms, Spotify has made no secret of its observe of amassing person knowledge. It usually incorporates that knowledge into its advertising, feeding it again to customers with the intention to promote itself. This observe is most distinguished throughout its annual year-end Spotify Wrapped advertising marketing campaign, during which the streaming platform supplies customers with a brief presentation about their most-played artists and songs. In late 2019, Spotify Wrapped allowed customers a window into their listening habits since 2010.
“Spotify has user listening analytics data dating back to our first years as a streaming platform,” a few of its engineers defined in a weblog publish about that venture.
But whereas the Spotify Wrapped marketing campaign supplies extra context for the info it affords customers, the messages this week had been tougher to parse. Spotify collects knowledge, makes use of that knowledge to market its options — on this case, artist-specific playlists — however won’t give its customers any perception into what the info means, and even whether or not it represents one thing actual.
“I thought it was kind of random given that it’s not the end of the year, it wasn’t part of a roundup, it was just like ‘oh hey by the way,’” mentioned Kasey Carlson, 22, who was instructed that she was one in every of Chance the Rapper’s high followers. (Her favourite track of the artist’s is “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”)
Cherie Hu, who writes the music expertise e-newsletter Water and Music, mentioned that the take a look at was typical of Spotify’s lack of transparency.
“What that message does is it reduces fandom to a very surface-level metric on Spotify,” she mentioned. “This raises a question for me of how Spotify is actually calculating fandom. Are they calculating it just by the number of streams? Are they tracking it by how many people go to the artist page?”
In some methods, what Spotify is doing is acquainted, as anonymized knowledge turns into a key element of how entrepreneurs enchantment to prospects. Jeff Chester, the top of the nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy, mentioned that such practices had grow to be commonplace.
“Just think about going into the supermarket and getting mobile coupons,” he mentioned. “All of that is tied together as part of the profiling process of you and you have no idea how it’s collected or what it means.”
But these newest Spotify messages are totally different in two key methods. The first is that they purport to share the service’s data straight with customers. And the second is that its knowledge is centered on music, a very private and personality-revealing facet of peoples’s lives. Matthew Perpetua, a longtime music blogger and a former director of quizzes at BuzzFeed, mentioned that the best way that Spotify served up knowledge to customers was harking back to a character quiz.
“In this case, the quiz itself is just your engagement with Spotify,” he mentioned. “In lieu of answering random questions that have been put before you, you’re just going about your life and listening to what you want. And they turn it into a quiz or game where they’re like, ‘This is who you are.’”
Or not. While many who posted concerning the Spotify messages recognized as followers of the artists they had been being instructed they had been followers of, others had been baffled.
Matt Moore, a 33-year-old software program developer in New Jersey, was instructed on Thursday that he’s one in every of Cake’s high followers.
“I mean, I’m a moderate Cake fan,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t say I’m in the one percent. I listen to Cake every now and then.”
Mr. Moore mentioned that the message was complicated. “For the most part it makes me feel bad for Cake,” he mentioned. “If I’m their number one biggest fan, then it’s saying something.”