Hey, I Know That One: How SongPop Got Millions Of Players Naming That Tune

Aug 31, 2012
Originally published on August 31, 2012 6:16 am

Today, four million people all over the world will log on to Facebook — or take out their phones — and play SongPop. This summer, it's become the fastest growing social game on Facebook, taking a run at old standards such as Farmville and Words with Friends.

Here's how it works: You pick a category like "Funk" or "Classic Rock." It plays you a little bit of a song and lists four titles or artists that might be what you're hearing. When I played "Today's Hits," my choices were the songs "Cowboys and Angels," "I Never Had," "Whistle" and "Dev." You race against a friend to pick the right one.

Music critic Rashod Ollison of the Virginian-Pilot just started playing SongPop Thursday. For him, the appeal is partly about how the game connects Facebook friends and music from back in the day. (And, really, for people of a certain age, Facebook is all about connecting with old friends you don't have much in common with anymore except the music you used to listen to anyway.)

It brought him right back to the '80s, when he and his friends would watch all kinds of MTV videos while waiting for Michael Jackson or Prince to come on. So when he played SongPop this morning, one of the first things he did was click on "'80s Pop."

"Whod've thunk it? I know that Whitesnake song," he laughs. "And I liked it."

When you take the addicting power of the music and add the addicting power of Facebook, you've got a speedball of an online game. And speed is partly what hooks players in. SongPop moves incredibly quickly and keeps delivering fast, constant hits of familiarity.

But technology writer Stephanie Humphrey says that the sense of competition is a bit of an illusion.

"You're not actually technically playing against the person in real time, which was a surprise to me," she said. Your opponent's times are actually prerecorded.

About a month ago, 22-year-old Dana Fraser was introduced to the game by an obsessed coworker. She got obsessed, too, and they played all the time. She laughingly declines to specify just how much time they spent.

But now, she says, she's played SongPop so often she started getting the same songs over and over. As with any other little online game, she says there's a point when the fun just wears off.

"It just starts to feel like an obligation that you have to answer these people. It's your turn, and they send you pokes and that kind of stuff." She says she's got a bunch of old games she never plays piled up her phone, and SongPop is now one of them. Think of them as being a little like cassette tapes piled up in the attic.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, some 4 million people all over the world are going to log on to Facebook, or take out their phones, and play SongPop. It's a little like "Name that Tune." This summer, it's become the fastest-growing social game on Facebook, taking a run at old standards such as Farmville and Words with Friends. NPR's Neda Ulaby checked it out.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Here's how SongPop works. You pick a category, like funk or classic rock. I'm going with today's hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHISTLE")

FLO RIDA: (Singing) Order more champagne. Pull a ...

ULABY: You're given four possible choice. Here: "Cowboys and Angels," "I Never Had," "Whistle" and "Someone Like You." You race against a friend to pick the right one.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME TONE)

ULABY: Dana Fraser was introduced to the game about a month ago, by a co-worker...

DANA FRASER: Who sits next to me and is obsessed with it.

(LAUGHTER)

FRASER: He's like, you have to try this new game; showed it to me. And then, we got up a bunch of other people in my department, to also download it. And we sort of started this little competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME TONE)

ULABY: They started playing all the time. All the time. How often?

(LAUGHTER)

FRASER: It's probably not a good thing to tell you.

ULABY: One of SongPop's most recent converts is Rashod Ollison. He's a music critic who just started playing today. It made him nostalgic for the '80s, when he and his friends would watch all kinds of MTV videos while waiting for Michael Jackson or Prince.

RASHOD OLLISON: We're looking at videos by Bananarama, you know, and Pat Benatar. And we're liking that stuff.

ULABY: So when he played SongPop this morning...

OLLISON: That was one of the first things I did - was click on like, '80s pop and '80s rock.

ULABY: To challenge himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS THIS LOVE")

WHITESNAKE: (Singing) So I can hold you in my arms. Is this love...

OLLISON: Who would have thunk it? I know that Whitesnake song...

(LAUGHTER)

OLLISON: ...and liked it.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: When you take the addicting power of music and add the addicting power of Facebook, you've got a speedball of an online game. And speed is partly what hooks players in. SongPop moves incredibly quickly. It's fast, constant hits of familiarity.

STEPHANIE HUMPHREY: It is as addictive as everybody says it is.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: Stephanie Humphrey writes about technology. She says SongPop's heady sense of competition is a bit of an illusion.

HUMPHREY: You're not actually, technically, playing against the person in real time - which was a surprise to me.

ULABY: Your opponents' times are actually prerecorded. And 22-year-old Dana Fraser says she played SongPop so often, she started getting the same songs over and over. As with any other little online game, she says there's a point where the fun just wears off.

FRASER: And then it sort of starts to feel like an obligation, you know; that you have to answer these people, or it's your turn, you know. And they send you pokes, and all that kind of stuff.

ULABY: Fraser's got a bunch of old games she never plays anymore, piled up in her phone. Now, SongPop is among them. Kind of like how cassette tapes, or CDs, are piled up in people's attics.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.