I recently signed up for the new music service Mflow. It works like this: You find people to follow, like in any social network, you can play 30 seconds of a track, and you then flow it, which means it will turn up in your followers' inboxes. They can play the full track, but only once. If they choose to purchase it, then as the person who flowed it (I guess we can't use the term 'flower') you get a percentage in revenue.
As a music service I found it a bit frustrating – only being able to play 30 seconds of a track, and then only play those in your inbox once seems limiting. This would have been a good idea before the arrival of Spotify, but not now. But like many new services it maybe takes a time to realise how to use it. If one has a good set of people you are following, then it isn't about hearing the same track again, but have a continual stream of music – a sort of friend-filtered radio. Whether there is sufficient incentive for people to be continually flowing music though is another matter.
Their model is interesting on a couple of fronts I think, and also relevant to education. Some time ago I posted how Last.FM could be applied to an educational setting and you can see the same with Mflow.
The first point of interest is the manner in which they have tried to formalise, or seperate out, the social filter function into a specific app. Having your network as a filter for music is something many of us already do with Twitter/Facebook combined with other services such as Blip.fm. But a continual flow of music recommendations in these general social spaces can be annoying. So for areas of particular interest, we might see more specific social recommendation/filtering services. We will have a default, general social network, and then a set of specialist ones for areas of interest. And education/learning might well be one such area. I suppose you could argue that delicious, or tumblr, or digg are already 'Flows' for content, but a more specialised educational one around subject areas with an OER focus might work.
The second point is the business model one – by getting a cut of purchases from items you have recommended Mflow hopes to incentivise some of the social recommending many of us do anyway. This will be interesting to watch – does have money attached mean that people try to get as many followers as possible, but this in turn devalues their relevance, meaning people will unfollow. Does it allow for very specialised recommenders, who spend more time finding music and are therefore worth following (in the same way that people play others to build up their avatars in virtual worlds). In an educational context, what might the impact of financial incentives be on a social learning model? Could you effectively recompense people for finding stuff, or is it just support and bespoke guidance that people pay for?
In conclusion then, I'm not convinced by Mflow as a music channel, but I am always intrigued when companies attempt to construct new business models and approaches which seem to take the internet and social media as their starting point, rather than a nuisance they wish would disappear.
I’ll give it a go.
Possibly related: The Unbearable Lightness of Sharing, some thoughts on playlists