Billboard today announced a partnership with Twitter to create the first real time reports of music popularity. Billboard’s charts have influenced the fortunes of artists since 1936. The technology may have changed dramatically, but the announcement brings the charts back to their roots.
In the beginning, charts were based on hand-written reports of record sales and airplay run through a secret algorithm. They were not tamper-proof. Result rigging charges and suspicions were common. Things changed dramatically in favor of accuracy in 1991 when the first SoundScan charts arrived. Soundscan is a system that uploads sales transactions from thousands of cash registers.
If you buy an album at a retail outlet, SoundScan grabs the transaction. It may be the purest stream of objective music data we will ever have. But online file sharing and internet social media caused a thirst for knowing what was really going on out there, legal and illegal. Billboard’s Social 50 tried to satisfy that thirst in 2010.
Social 50 is a cocktail of data including Facebook “likes.” Objective data was giving way to subjective, but it was not all gone. Social 50 also includes streaming data. Yet it may not be fast enough for a culture trained to focus on the moment.
The news release for the Billboard Twitter charts promises a stock market ticker for the music business. Stock tickers track real trades. The new charts will track tweets. So music charts have returned to handwritten reports. This may be the purest stream of subjective music data we will ever have. What could possibly go wrong?