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Spotify: Quietly Introducing Listening Data for Our Pleasure.

I always knew that data was important, but had I ever really stopped to consider its use more deeply? No, not really. To be completely honest, I think my closest interaction with data was when I was a child and received my monthly subscription of National Geographic (example below). They made these beautiful figures and graphics trying to explain a data set, a supporting process, mapping, etc. I was always amazed at how they packed all that data in there, but then usually immediately turned the page to see the baby seals. (Who doesn’t love baby seals? I was 9 years old.)

National Geographic: Superstorm of 2100

When I went back to school for the second time, that is when I finally realized how interesting data can be when it is corralled to tell a compelling story. Between taking an information design class with Professor Karen Cheng (truly the Information Design Queen), and co-founding Science by Design with Gregory Quetin that brought together scientists and designers to discuss communication methods, I quickly learned how kick-ass data can be.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I accidentally ran across Spotify using their listener’s data on which artists they listen to, how often, and what cities listen to an artist the most. Spotify is a Swedish music-streaming company that started in 2008. As of 2015 they had over 75 million active listeners. 75 MILLION PEOPLE. Now privacy issues aside for a moment (I signed the agreement. I knew what I was getting into for $4.99), that is an amazing amount of potential data collection! Especially about a topic that is brought up on every dating website, is a go-to for small talk at parties, and the cause for many a breakup after a road trip.

If you saunter over to your Spotify application, you can follow along at home. Type in your favorite artist (Yes, I like John Mayer. Moving it right along…) Then click on “About.” Instead of the usual glib drivel that sounds like it came from Perez Hilton’s celebrity blog, I saw stats and was instantly drawn in.

Spotify

Yes, I could still read about John Mayer and view pictures of his bizarre outfits (I seriously remember him being cooler back in the day), but more importantly I could see how many people were listening to him today, monthly, and how he ranked in the world compared to other artists. Apparently his listening stock was up that day. When I had checked the day before only 7, 624 people had listened to him and his little triangle was down.

Spotify

Then Spotify took it a step further and let you know which cities in the world listened to him the most. In other words, if Seattle didn’t work out for me, I have 5 other cities that would accept me with open, John Mayer-loving arms.

Now in my head, I am certainly asking a few questions about how this could be presented better. I wanted to be able to click on the stats and cities or perhaps have hover states that would garner me additional information. But no such luck. From a more data accuracy standpoint, I’m sure I could show this to any one of my data savvy friends and they would have questions about how Spotify arrived at their findings.

But what Spotify did do, is as a user, I instantly felt like I was part of a community; A 12,490 person community and each of them knew just how much John Mayer spoke to my soul that day. Seems perhaps small and insignificant at first, but stop and think about it: I believe that a lot of people think that data is cold and unfeeling, perhaps incomprehensible, doesn’t apply to them, and the myths continue. But in a very simple way, Spotify took their data relating to something almost every person in the world loves, and used it to make a tighter community of their users. Simple, and very effective.

I have a feeling this feature is relatively new and that Spotify is just coming around to the idea of displaying their fascinating data and will continue to bring that to their users in diverse and interesting ways. Their enhanced UX definitely had this designer spending more time checking out her favorite artists to see how they ranked, rather than just clicking on a playlist and getting on with her day. Well played Spotify. Well played.

Paper because…

As I was thumbing through my newest installment of National Geographic I came across the most intriguing ad. Being a graphic designer in marketing, I tend to look at the ads, even when I would rather ignore them and get to the good facts about some bizarre island that can’t be found that breeds a type of bird that has never been seen but that likes to sleep upside down. I truly love National Geographic. But I digress. I came across a rather simple, but colorful ad that with two people looking at a map, clearly dressed for the outdoors, with a headline that said, “Paper because a lot of places worth going don’t get a signal, and hopefully never will.” Whoa. That was simply my first reaction. I just couldn’t believe that here was an advertisement that wasn’t directly trying to get a graphic designer or office interested in their paper products and more importantly, it wasn’t in an industry magazine such as HOW, Communication Arts, etc. I was thrown for a happy loop!

As the shock finally wore off, I saw the logo in the bottom right hand corner. The ad was for Domtar Paper (here). Admittedly not my favorite paper company, but dang it, if this ad wasn’t turning my thoughts around. So as usual, I donned my research hat and starting poking around trying to find out more and Domtar was completely prepared. The ad I saw was only one advertisement of a whole campaign to battle the “go paperless” statement that seems to appear on anything paper or that could appear on paper, such as emails or bills. Well, no wonder. The “go paperless” campaign has been put forth by technology based companies to push their products, so it was only fair that the paper companies have the same chance to fight for their products. I applaud them, especially with something so creative. They have made Paper an entity on their site. There is even a letter from Paper to the audience, reminding them about how many great times they’ve had together and that they’ve been together for so very long. All very true statements.

Their website goes even further than just helping their audience fall back in love with paper. They have made some very poignant and rather socially pointed ads (see here) showing how leaving paper behind and going completely forth with technology based forms of communication might indeed be hurtful to society, both socially, historically, financially, and environmentally. Then, making sure that they’re not getting too serious with their cause, they have made some very funny short videos (see here) likening paper to drugs, what would actually happen if paper was rationed, and then taking it even further that is the world goes completely “paperless” what would you use to…um…take care of things in the bathroom.

Here is one of my favorite videos…

It is no secret that I love paper. For years now I have been collecting everything printed ephemera from books, menus, postcards, gift tags, signs, and just sheets of paper from around the world. It’s a fascinating concept to me that something that is so seemingly fragile can last for a thousand years. I recently heard a startling fact that the Library of Congress put forth. They stated that in 100 years all of the current, digital archives that they have will be corrupt and no longer useable. Say what? Yet the Gutenberg Bible, which is not even the oldest form of paper in archive currently is 562 years old (give or take a decade) and is still in near perfect condition. Hello people??? I’m not sure we need much more proof than that that paper is not something we should be getting rid of anytime soon. How are people, 500 years from now going to know what life was like during this time if there is nothing to find? I’m just not entirely sure we’re completely thinking to our future with this “go paperless” concept.

Now before I get an onslaught of comments about being environmentally friendly, and recycling, and not wasting, I completely agree. We as society need to be responsible paper users. Do you always need to print that email? Probably not. If a child makes one small mark on a paper, should they just throw it away and start over? Nope, just turn it over or heaven forbid you erase the mark with an eraser. On a pencil. Remember those? Anyways, that’s a whole other irk of mine. There are ways to continue to use paper and trees and be responsible about it.

So in a world where the pressures to completely forget about paper, I truly applaud Domtar Paper for attempting to inform, raise questions, and entertain me with their new campaign. They can count one more among their supporters. My name is Abigail Steinem and I’m a paper lover. Hail paper!