The Activity Streams and Personalization of Google Music

4 min read
Josh T.
Josh T.
Published August 16, 2016 Updated June 20, 2021

When products are built around feeds, the general goal is to provide users with functionality to share their thoughts, follow their interests and respond to content. With this functionality being user-centric, we wanted to offer some suggestions on the best practices for newsfeeds on iOS and Android. When Google released Material Design, it became clear that the competition for great user interfaces was going to get more heated. Material Design easily morphs between desktop and mobile with an agility that shocked designers and developers. Google Music was one of the first properties of Google to embrace the core Material Design concepts. Speed, context and discovery are the forefront of the Google Music experience. Feeds are the unsung hero of products and Google Music proves this. People go back to the product to see what kind of new content has been added since their last visit. Feeds are sticky; and they powerfully enrich products, websites and mobile apps. For this article, I want to look at how Google Music leverages feeds and activity streams. With GM, there is really only two actors: GM and myself. I feel like this type of use case is something that could benefit every app.

My Activity

One of the simplest ways Google is using activity streams is with their “Recent Activity” section of the “Listen Now” page. The practicality of this feature is immense! It encourages the exploration of music by giving a way to return to songs/albums/playlists that were enjoyed.

This is important for these reasons:

  • I don’t have to remember how I found what I enjoyed
  • If I leave the office, I can resume the music I was listening to in my car
  • I can rediscover music I listen to a few days ago

With one simple activity stream, Google Music has helped me have a continuous experience with the music that I am most enjoying without having to do any extra work. Imagine how “recent activity” could be used in the following cases:

  • Images recently uploaded
  • People recently connected with
  • New files that have been created
  • Trips I have taken and I am going to take

Personalized Feeds

Google Music is onboarding new users with the personalization step as optional. Pinterest, Quora and Twitter all require a user to go through a personalization flow prior to using their services. Google sources activity from YouTube and geolocation to generate a “Recommended For You” section (more on that next), which allows me to do what I want to do: play music immediately. In fact, if there is one big takeaway from Google Music for a killer User Experience it would be: Make it impossibly fast to engage with the core purpose of your app for first time users. When you start going through the Personalization flow, there are a few things that Google does that makes their process simpler and easier to use than other apps:

  • Step 1: They only require you to select one genre of music (compare that to Pinterest that requires you to select 5 categories).
  • Step 2: When deciding the artists to select, they are clearly ranked based on genre popularity. This was good because it helped me select artists that I love, but maybe wouldn’t have remembered to search out again.

The personalization flow is simple and to the point. Once completed, you’re “Recommended For You” section is instantly updated with artists/playlist from the genres you like. See how we do Personalization at Stream.

Onboarding Recommendation Magic

For this blog post, I’ve put myself in the scenario of a first time user. I really wanted to see how feeds and activity streams would be used without any prior activity. I’m glad that I did this because I discovered something really interesting and powerful. With zero plays or personalization done within Google Music, I was presented with a feed that focused on recent YouTube activity and popular music near me (Boulder) and what is trending on Google Music. This combination of data was enough to make me feel like Google Music has an incredible library and the means to surface new and interesting music that I would enjoy.


  • Instantly add value across your platform with “Recent Activity” feeds.
  • Personalization improves onboarding in a magical way if you can provide label the data to reflect why the content is being shown (location, popularity, trending on YouTube, etc).
  • A combination of user activity and personalization machine learning can be leveraged to provide a great (sticky) user experience.

If you’re building an app that you want to see increased onboarding, think about alternative data sources and how they can be leveraged in interesting ways to engage new users. Not everyone has access to a treasure trove of data that Google has and they need to collect and provide personalized experienced with their own data.

Ready to Integrate your own Feeds and Activity Streams?

Ready to build these types of feeds and activity streams into your app? Add feeds in hours and avoid scalability or maintenance issues that go with building your own feed systems. Stream helps you build, scale and personalize your feeds. If you want to build personalized feeds that get smarter and smarter with machine learning - get in touch with us. Our data scientists that can evaluate your needs and help you get set up with the best kind of personalization for your app.

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