Spotify and Nudges

There are over 2,000,000 apps on the App Store with each one clamouring and competing for your attention. Even the big ones have to fight for it, with Instagram and Snapchat copying each other with every pace just for a few seconds of your time. They’ll copy each other with ‘Stories’ and filters just so you don’t waste another minute with their competition. These are billion dollar companies that make their dimes from your views and clicks. They’ll use every strategy in the book to get you to look down at your phone and their app. One concept every app maker is trying to manipulate? Nudges, with those nudges coming in the form of push notifications.

A ‘nudge’ is a term used in behavioural economics to describe a psychological bias that influences people to make decisions that are against their best interest. Think of a recent visit to a petrol station – you probably noticed all of the chocolate bars and soda bottles parked beside the cash register. You only came to buy a pack of cigs, but when you’ve got your cash out and a Snickers logo catches your eye? You’ll be more inclined to get rid of those few coins to buy that chocolate bar. Now, that cash register in the dingy Mace petrol station you’re standing in is up a Euro and they’ve made a fool of you. You’ve been nudged. Now, in the sense of push notifications? An app will make your phone vibrate and give you a notification. For a game like Clash of Clans, it might tell you that it has free coins or materials for you to spend in-game. It’ll frame it so it looks like these free gifts are just for you. Next? Your brain will get a rush of dopamine and you’ll be inclined to open the game, spend those coins and spend the time you intended to spend on re-watching Friends on Clash of Clans instead. Instead of spending your time doing nothing worthwhile they’ve influenced you to spend your time on something even more degrading. Playing Clash of Clans. This is an excellent way to use this nudge but not all push notifications are made equal. Enter: Spotify.

Some nudges work and some just don’t. It’s easy to use push notifications that work on games and other apps. For music apps, it’s something else entirely. If Spotify continually sent you notifications telling you to listen to music or to become a premium customer then at best you’d turn off push notifications altogether. But the company doesn’t want that. So they use artificial intelligence to study your behaviour on the app and the genres and artists that you listen to it too personally tailor your push notifications. If you’re listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new album ‘DAMN.’, then they’ll suggest an artist for you that is similar to Kendrick or even an artist that was featured on the album. This is a fantastic method of getting listeners like you and I to use Spotify’s app more often. It’s mutually beneficial, too, because the more we listen to music on Spotify the more the artists get paid and Spotify takes a cut of that profit. Everybody wins. Unfortunately, not all is merry.

The best push notifications are well-timed. When I get a push notification for my Star Wars fighting game app it’s not at 9am when I’m preparing for a day of lectures. It’s after 6pm when I’m sitting on the couch with a fag in my mouth. In the case of Spotify, why am I only now getting notifications for Kendrick Lamar’s new album? I listen to ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ all the time. I listened to his track ‘Humble’ so often when it was released that I’m sick of it. Spotify should know that I’ve been hungry for more tracks from K-Dot. This is obviously a mistake on the technology they’re using. But if their weekly ‘Discover’ playlist tailored for the music I listen to can consistently be of a high standard, why can’t this? Spotify, fix your shit or your revenue might dip while your consumers start to lean toward other streaming services.

by Kieran Cunnane

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