I joined Spotify this week. It's great! And because it links up with my Facebook account, I get to see what all my friends—like my boss Nick Denton—are listening to. Oh, Nick. I'm so embarrassed for you.
Spotify is coming to the U.S. at last—and soon. And unlike Amazon or Google or Apple, it's not just another island in the cloud. It's fueled by sharing. (That's what we love about Rdio too.) Your contacts' listening habits are out in the daylight for everyone to see. Which is great, for discovery. But can also be a little humiliating.
Spotify, like many others, doesn't let you selectively publish which tracks and artists show up in your listening history. It's the dark side of social music sharing: that everyone you know can see those guilty pleasure tunes you listen to in secret. It's been an issue since the early days of Audioscrobbler, but thanks to newer services like Rdio and Spotify and Mog that really put social sharing at the front and center of the listening experience, we now not only see our friends' terrible tunes, but we can queue them up and play along. (And laugh.)
Which brings me back to Denton. Sitting atop Nick's most listened artists? Eminem.
Nick, Nick, Nick. Look, I know that old people cannot always tell good hip hop from bad, but Eminem is truly awful. Well, other than his very early stuff, which doesn't appear to be what you were listening to. It looks like you were really into some tracks from Recovery. That's just... No. Don't do that.
And Bon Iver's Skinny Love, too, I see. What, are you a girl?
I'm picking on Nick, but this is the future. Even Ping, the social sharing component of iTunes that you have already forgotten about, tattletales on all your purchases. In fact, I quit using Ping largely out of frustration because there was no easy way to have it selectively report which tracks I'd bought from iTunes. Because I buy some lousy, embarrassing crap.
One of my favorite features of Last.fm is my ability to easily purge tracks, or an entire artist catalogue from my listening history. It let's me listen to all kinds of horrible lowbrow drek without fear of being made fun of. It's a great feature—one I use a lot.
Last.fm actually compiles this data and publishes a list of the tracks most commonly deleted from people's histories each month. It's a window into our collective musical shame, but exposes a common truth: Most of us like to listen to music that we don't necessarily want everyone knowing about.
Every music service with a social component needs a way to let its listeners selectively share or purge items from our listening history. Because if sharing has to be all or nothing, everyone will eventually choose nothing, just so some unkind jerk doesn't come along and mock us for the things we take pleasure in.
Oh, Nick, I see you like The Strokes. They were really cool—back before the Internet was invented.
You can keep up with Mat Honan, the author of this post, on Twitter or Facebook.