I occasionally catch a glimpse of what my Spotify-using Facebook friends are listening to when their activity flashes by on Facebook's sidebar, and I can see published playlists on Spotify of the few friends that endeavored to publish such playlists. Other than these two outlets, my Spotify experience thus far has been rather a solitary one. Until I installed Swarm.fm.
Swarm.fm is a Spotify app. It can be found in the App Finder, which you can access in the Apps section in Spotify's left panel. After installing, you'll see a Swarm.fm entry gets added to the Apps area.
Upon your first visit to Swarm.fm, the app will ask you to sign in via Facebook. It's not mandatory, but Swarm.fm says it works best when connected to Facebook. Since I installed Swarm.fm to get a better handle on what music my friends are listening to -- and already signed into Spotify using Facebook in the first place -- I logged in with Facebook.
After connecting to Facebook (or not), Swarm.fm offers you a quick five-step tour that shows you where to find the hidden sidebar and what lurks behind the four menu options at the top: Home, Activity, Releases, and My Swarm. Allow me to take you on a guided tour of my own devising.
First stop: the sidebar. Click on the small, grayed-out magnifier icon that sits just to the right of the Swarm.fm logo at the top of the app's window and a sidebar slides out. It features a search bar near the top, and above that are five icons that give you different ways to browse music: by artist, tag, friends, calendar year, and recently viewed items.
If you have hundreds of Facebook friends but only a handful use Spotify, you'll need to scroll through a long list in the sidebar, though friends with Spotify have a small music-note icon next to their name. The sidebar, instead, is best used for searches.
For browsing through your friends' Spotify comings and goings, click the Activity menu item at the top of the Swarm.fm page. Here, you can view three lists -- Recommended, Top Friends, and All Activity. Mouse over the thumbnail of an artist to either play that particular track or view that artist's page in Swarm.fm. You can also click the small thumbnail to the left of the Activity page's header to listen to a playlist of the tracks listed below. You can click on a friend's name to view his or her listening habits. You'll see two buttons to the right of a friend's name. Click the My Swarm button to add or remove a friend from Swarm.fm (hey, not everyone's tastes are the same), while clicking the Add to Top Friends does exactly what it says.
To discover new music from the bands you're interested in, click Releases. You can see recommendations, new releases from artists in your Spotify library, and a random list of popular new releases.
The My Swarm page acts as the hub for your music. You can see the artists you marked as favorites here, along with a rotation of the artists you recently listened to. Tap the Tracks tab on the My Swarm page to view the tracks you listened to by year. Interestingly, I could go back to 2006, which means it is showing me what I listened to in iTunes that year since Spotify was but a distant dream then. Nothing is listed for 2012 yet, however. Perhaps I need to wait until final tabulations at the year's end.
Lastly, the Home page groups snippets from the Activity and Releases pages, along with providing a glimpse at Recent, Artists, Tags, and Friends. For nearly every artist listed, thumbnail art is provided, giving Swarm.fm a graphically rich look. I think if you get into the app, you'll find Spotify easier to explore, while learning a lot -- for better or worse -- about your friends' musical tastes.