Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Apple is quietly retiring its social-music feature, after artists showed a lack of interest in using it. No, we haven’t accidentally sent out an old bulletin from 2012 when Apple shut down the Ping music/social network that it had built in to iTunes. But the news that the company is retiring the ‘Connect’ feature in Apple Music can’t help but remind us of those past events.
Unveiled as part of the Apple Music launch in June 2015, Connect was a feature for artists to upload music, videos and photos that would appear in the Connect feeds of fans who’d followed their profiles: essentially a way to bring Instagram / Twitter / SoundCloud-esque posts in to Apple Music itself. At the time, Apple’s Eddy Cue suggested that artists would also use Connect to push content out to Facebook, Twitter and their own websites.
Connect didn’t take off, like Ping didn’t take off before it. In September 2015, 10 weeks after launch, Music Ally investigated how artists were using it, and found that even the headliners of Apple’s music festival were using it sparsely, while a wider selection of popular artists were even less engaged. Since then, Apple Music redesigns have pushed Connect to the margins of the user interface.
And now out altogether: “Today we’re streamlining music discovery by removing Connect posts from Artist Pages and For You,” Apple explained in an email to artists, reported by 9 to 5 Mac. “This means you’ll no longer be able to post to Connect as of December 13, 2018, but all previously uploaded content will still be searchable until May 24, 2019.”
Apple Music is working with artists in other, more-interesting ways: from original content to playlist curation, Beats 1 radio shows and live activations. Connect isn’t an embarrassing failure, it’s just a note in the margins for a platform that’s grown steadily and encouragingly to 56 million subscribers.
Connect-style features aren’t entirely dead on other platforms. Spotify has its ability for artists to pin ‘Artist’s Pick’ songs, albums or playlists to the top of their profile pages with short messages, for example, while YouTube has its ‘stories’ feature for social-media-style updates from creators. Pandora has its AMPcast and Artist Audio Messaging features.
Even so, it seems clear that for now, the bulk of artist-to-fan communication of this kind will remain on the big social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and so on. We still feel that there should be an opportunity for music-streaming services to do more: to become an alternative communications channel between artists and fans. Yet the experience of Ping and now Connect raises the prospect that if neither artists nor fans are interested, perhaps that opportunity was just an illusion.