Why is Lana Del Rey the first thing I see when I open up Rdio? Until today's update, it would take some digging to see that Erik Malinowski was pumping Born to Die (Deluxe Edition) onto the front page page of my Heavy Rotation feed, the core of Rdio's super social music service.
Like I explained before, Rdio is the streaming music service that most of the tech writers I know use over Spotify because of the product, even if the catalog isn't quite as heavy on deep cuts. The interface is cleaner (and usable!), and the social component actually works: I can see what my friends are listening to, seamlessly, start listening to it myself, and then watch an album spread around to my other friends. It's addictive and catchy, like an inherently viral mixtape. Spotify, on the other hand, is completely oriented around playlists, which feels like a throwback to something very iTunes-y. Put another way, it's harder than it should be to get a sense of what my friends are listening to. Not to mention, it feels hard to even listen to my own music.
The updates to Rdio are designed to make it even more social. Your buddy list is super prominent now, affixed to the right side like a chat list in Facebook or AIM, and you can see who's on or offline. Whenever you look at an album, it's immediately apparent which of your friends have listened to it — a simple mouseover shows you every single friend that's ever listened to a particular album. It's interesting, too, that the recommendations for who to follow are more readily visible from the homepage than what to listen to. Tastemaking is now at the forefont of the Rdio experience, as much as the music. (Are there points for being patient zero for an album? Maybe one day.)
Now that who is listening to what is so nakedly prominent in the service — beyond a "hey check out what your friends are listening to" in a more general, less person-specific sense — it's more disconcerting than ever that there's no private listening mode for Rdio, like there is on Spotify. (At least that I or my Twitter followers could find. If it exists, it's a secret, ironically.) If you've wholly converted to Rdio for your music needs — and I'm very close to it — you and your terrible taste are completely naked. Even as we grow more and more comfortable as a culture with sharing even the most minute minutiae of our lives, the pace at which social services seek to strip us down to bare id is no less jarring on occasion: Spotify and Rdio by default pump our music feeds into Facebook, the Washington Post social reader is an occasionally frightening real-time feed of what your friends are reading, your unalterable Netflix history is broadcast on Xbox Live if you let it happen.
We are what we eat. And listen to, and read and watch. There needs to be a private space for that to happen sometimes! Whether it's not Rdio bombing my friends with Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj tracks when I work out, or simply being able to read a really trashy story without worrying about one of my more pretentious friends judging me. The occasional bite of something in bad taste is important — and just as important is the knowledge that if I'm telling somebody else about it, it's because I want to, not because the Great Feed deems it algorithmically relevant to your interests that day. And you know what? Privacy is only an issue when the ability to be private is taken away.
I love the new Rdio. It's beautiful and easy to use and I can't wait for a new mobile app to match it. But let me lock the door to my room and listen to Lana Del Ray all by myself, please?